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So long, Levi.

We really weren’t ready to let you go. We needed more of Levi Phillips, not less. But we lost you last week and now we’re sad.

I am sad.

Levi and I were great friends. Anytime he attended a West Virginia University or Marshall University basketball game, Levi always would come and sit with me on press row. We would watch the game while reminiscing non-stop.

Levi and I went way back. We were the same age and both graduated from high school in 1969, Levi from Charleston High School, I from South Charleston High School. This was supposed to be our year. We both graduated in the Class of ’69 and we both were 69 years old.

That symmetry ended last week, unfortunately.

I vividly recall sitting in old Oakes Field Gym watching Levi and the high-flying Mountain Lions take on the Black Eagles. Back in 1969, Charleston High’s lineup included Levi, Larry “Deacon” Harris, Skip Mason and Steve Parsons.

The most memorable moment of the game occurred when all the lights suddenly went out and a capacity crowd sat in darkness for a few moments.

Levi and his teammates turned the lights out on many opponents, but never so literally.

During my 35 years in Charleston, we saw each other often. We played hoops on playgrounds. We played hoops in Rec Centers. We played hoops in First Presby’s gym.

And we always enjoyed each other’s company.

I always smiled when I was around Levi. It was contagious. Since Levi was always wearing that big, trademark grin of his, I automatically started smiling, too.

Did Levi have his demons? Oh, yes. And sometimes he dealt with them better than other times. That’s life. But I don’t believe Levi ever harmed anyone but himself. At least, not intentionally.

My all-time favorite story about Levi occurred back in the day when Charleston High and George Washington decided to play an alumni basketball game at GW. What needs to be pointed out is back in the day CHS and GW had such a heated rivalry, it often reached the melting point.

So, the alumni game was going along fine on “The Hill,” until late in the second half the game suddenly grew very, very chippy. So, chippy, in fact, it appeared a brawl was going to break out at any moment.

That’s when it happened.

Sensing how heated the moment suddenly had become, Levi ran over to the stands, looked up at his wife and hollered, “Honey, get our coats ready!”

It was a truly hilarious moment that nobody other than Levi could have pulled off. And guess what. It immediately broke the tension. Everyone was so busy laughing at Levi’s levity, all the chippiness disappeared and bygones became bygones.

That was my friend, Levi. And yes, I am smiling while I write this. Smiling through the tears.

I never thought I’d have to say goodbye to Levi this soon. I am going to miss his smile so very much.

Rest in peace, my friend.