Chowan's Men basketball team at the 9/11 Memorial Site (www.gocuhawks.com)

MURFREESBORO, NC – Play with a purpose.

Those words are echoed by coaches across the country on a daily basis, in attempts to get the most out of a student-athlete’s performance.

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On a recent road trip, the Chowan University Men’s Basketball team received a powerful message on what those four words really mean.

The team competed in the University of Pitt-Johnstown Tournament this past weekend in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. On Friday, November 11th, Veteran’s Day, the University unveiled a memorial in the heart of its campus. The “Heroes Memorial” pays tribute to those who died on September 11th, 2001, as well as the members of the United States Armed Forces who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before their game against Wheeling Jesuit University on Saturday the 12th, Chowan Head Coach Dan DeRose took the team to the memorial to share exactly what playing with a purpose means. “I wanted them to get a sense of history and the impact of what’s going on in the world. I think at times we forget what happened on 9/11 and what is still going on in the world today,” he said.

“What they (team members) don’t realize is a lot of the time is that all these people died to continue your opportunity to live and play basketball,” added DeRose. “You need to always keep them in the back of your mind. When you play, play for something.”

Play with a purpose. That message goes beyond basketball, beyond all sports. Said DeRose, “You should have a purpose every day in life, because you just don’t know what is going to happen. We have what we have today because brave men and women are over there fighting for us.”

Dedication for the monument was held on Veteran’s Day, and was attended by more than 200 community members, the school’s president, and several members of the military.

Currently, the Heroes Memorial contains 9,208 names. 1,729 names represent the men and women killed in Afghanistan in the years following the 9/11 attacks, and 4,456 names are those who have been killed in Iraq, through August 22nd, 2011. Over 3,000 names represent those killed on 9/11, at the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and on United Airlines Flight 93.

The centerpiece of the entire memorial is a 3,500 pound steel beam recovered from of one of the World Trade Center towers. “One of the things I told the guys to try to give them a sense of the devastation on that day was to look at this steel beam and how strong it is,” said DeRose. “But on that day, it crumbled and was bent just like that. That’s the type of destruction that thousands of people had to deal with.”

“It was very emotional for me,” said sophomore Antonio Reddic. “These men and women are why we are able to have the future we hope to have. I respect them and all of their families that they left behind. If it wasn’t for them, who knows where we would be today. I am really happy we went.”

Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the small town where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, is only about 25 miles away from the Pitt-Johnstown campus. “Being nearby the place where the plane crashed brought back memories of how those heroes sacrificed their own lives for their country, and that made me feel very blessed,” added Reddic.

For senior Lee Branscome, the trip helped put playing basketball into perspective. “Coach D just wanted us to see that there are people fighting to give us the opportunity to do what we love to do, play college basketball. We play because they are out there protecting our freedom. That’s the lesson Coach D shared with us.”

That was the lesson. To put basketball into perspective. To play with a purpose.

Courtesy of CIAA