The victory was significant because the Saints from Alexandria were one of the top squads in the nation and would go on to win the VISAA championship later that spring.
While the triumph provided a well-earned moment in the sun, the Cougars’ celebration was muted.
You see, Alex Peavey, who served as an assistant lacrosse coach as well as head boys varsity basketball coach, Upper School counselor, and the school's mindfulness guru, had recently been diagnosed, at age 39, with Stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer.
The news had stunned Peavey, his family, the school community, and his wide circle of friends. Since he arrived at Collegiate in the summer of 2004, Peavey had become a steadfast advocate and trusted confidant for students and colleagues. He was universally admired and respected. He brought out the best in others, though he would gently argue that it was others who brought out the best in him.
Anyone who viewed him just as an athletic coach missed the point, although his skill set, both the X’s and O’s part and his attention to the mental game, was nonpareil. His teams, often physically outmanned, played hard, played tough, played together, and never gave up.
Truly a Renaissance man, Peavey had a depth and breadth of interests that extended well beyond the athletic arena. He thought reflectively, relied on a deep well of spirituality, and conveyed compassion, empathy, and beyond-his-years, Yoda-like wisdom. Simply put, he was beloved amongst the Collegiate Family.
On this bright spring day, he was recovering at his Midlothian home after beginning intense treatment which his medical team hoped would prevent the spread of his disease, but as he came to grips with this powerful interloper that had rocked his life, his heart and mind were, nevertheless, with his guys on the turf.
Late that afternoon, as coaches and players convened at midfield in the aftermath of their victory, Andrew Stanley, who has directed the boys lacrosse program since April 2005, received a text from Peavey.
It read, Next Up Wednesday.
“That’s Alex, coaching and teaching every chance he gets,” Stanley said. “He wanted us to enjoy the moment. He also wanted to make sure we didn’t lose focus.”
Another text followed an instant later. That one read, Fight with a smile because you love what you’re doing and good things will happen.
“When we read that to the team,” Stanley continued, “they just stopped. The clarity and power of the message was so clear. It hit everyone between the eyes. Fight and Smile. It became a mantra for the program.”
Though the words, seeming oxymoronic, began to appear on t-shirts and became a rallying cry, the implication is much more profound.
“That text,” Stanley said, “succinctly defined the lessons Alex had been teaching his entire career. Fight and Smile is the most important lesson we can teach kids. It’s how Alex approached his life before he was sick. It’s how he’s dominated his recovery. It’s how he lives his life today. It’s how we hope everyone can live their lives. It’s how we’ve coached. Fight for every inch. Do it for the right reasons, with a smile on your face.”
Peavey stepped back from basketball following the 2016-2017 season to focus on his family and other professional responsibilities. He left Collegiate, at least as a contracted employee, in June 2018. Since then, as he’s directed his attention to his medical needs, he’s served as a mindfulness consultant with Summit Emotional Health
and as the mindfulness coach for the Virginia Commonwealth University basketball team.
While treatment protocols have held the prostate cancer at bay, the disease has evolved into a poorly differentiated high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, which calls for a powerful (and debilitating) regimen of chemo via infusion for three consecutive days, every 21 days, for three to six months.
Nevertheless, Peavey continues to fight the good fight and inspire friends, albeit from a safe distance.
“While Alex’s impact as a coach has been significant,” Stanley said, “the impact he’s had on our lives can’t be measured. He’s been a mentor, teacher, counselor, and confidant for so many of us.”
On Saturday, September 26, a group of friends will host the Fight & Smile Lacrosse Clinic at the River City Sportsplex
in Midlothian. It will be a non-contact, socially-distanced, by-safe-standards opportunity for kids from first grade through high school to receive age- and experience-appropriate lacrosse instruction.
Mainly, though, the events of the day will provide a moment to pause and honor Peavey and his enduring contributions to the Collegiate community.
“This is an opportunity to share Alex’s message with others during this difficult time,” Stanley said. “Alex is in a battle now and exemplifying Fight and Smile every step of the way. We want to acknowledge who he is and how he lives his life.”
(For more information about the Fight & Smile Lacrosse Clinic, please contact Andrew Stanley at FITZSTAN01@gmail.com or check out @fightsmile1 on Instagram and Twitter.)