By Brad Fauber
QUICKSBURG - Stonewall Jackson girls basketball coach Jeff Burner thought the pain that began in his lower leg two weeks ago was simply a cramp.
As the pain persisted, Burner had a couple of people examine his leg, including his wife, who is an athletic trainer, but no cause for the pain could be found. Despite his wife's request for him to see a doctor, Burner insisted he was fine and took painkillers in hope of riding out whatever was causing the discomfort.
It wasn't until last Wednesday, as Burner was teaching class, that the signs of a more serious medical emergency began to emerge.
"In the middle of second block, I got the sharpest stabbing pain in my chest on the right side," Burner said. "If I would reach, or if I would breathe deep, it would radiate to my collarbone."
Burner visited the school nurse, Victoria Foley, who initially found nothing seriously wrong and also encouraged the longtime coach to see a doctor. It wasn't until Burner informed her of the recent pain in his calf that Foley told him that his chest pain could be the result of a pulmonary embolism and that he needed to go to the emergency room immediately.
Burner underwent several tests at the hospital before a CAT scan finally revealed multiple pulmonary embolisms in his lung.
"It was lit up like fireworks, the CAT scan," Burner said.
Burner was immediately put on bed rest and administered blood thinners and other drugs to prevent the clots from spreading to his heart. As a result, Burner was forced to miss Stonewall Jackson's game against Stuarts Draft last Friday, the first game Burner has missed in 21 years with the program.
But the medical emergency, which Burner said has been an eye-opening experience, could only keep him down for so long. Burner returned to coach the Generals in Tuesday's regular-season finale at Wilson Memorial, and he was back at practice on Wednesday as Stonewall Jackson began preparing for tonight's rematch with the Green Hornets in the first round of the Shenandoah District tournament.
The seventh-seeded Generals (6-16) will travel to No. 2 Wilson Memorial for a 6 p.m. tip-off in one of four district tournament games tonight. In the other games around the league, top-seeded East Rockingham hosts No. 8 Page County, No. 3 Luray hosts sixth-place Buffalo Gap and No. 4 Stuarts Draft hosts fifth-seeded Riverheads.
The Shenandoah District has been a competitive one in girls basketball this season, as four teams finished the season tied at 8-4 in district play.
Stonewall Jackson is winless in two games against the Green Hornets this season, including a 52-25 road loss on Tuesday. Burner said the two teams played close in their first meeting earlier this season, but he noted that the Green Hornets pose matchup problems for the Generals that Stonewall Jackson has not figured out how to negate yet.
"They're a tough matchup for us ... because they're just so athletic," Burner said. "They're young, but they're athletic. They're fast and we struggle with speed.
"It's just a matter of matter of doing what we've got to do. We'll see what happens. That's postseason play -- you never know."
In the boys bracket, Stonewall Jackson is looking to make some noise in the district tournament after putting together its best season in recent memory.
The Generals slid from a possible top-four spot in the district tournament to the sixth seed after ending the regular season on a four-game losing streak, but the Generals are looking to rebound in a road contest tonight against No. 3 Stuarts Draft. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.
"Our goals have changed, and that's a credit to those nine guys who have worked their tails off this entire year," Smoot said. "They're the ones who are out there doing it every day, and they have earned everything that they have gotten."
In the tournament's other three matchups, top-seeded Page County hosts No. 8 Buffalo Gap, No. 2 Wilson Memorial hosts seventh-seeded Riverheads and fourth-seeded East Rockingham hosts No. 5 Luray.
In order for Stonewall Jackson (7-13) to find success against Stuarts Draft (10-11), the Generals will have to find a way to slow down the Cougars' fast-paced offensive attack. That task has proven to be a challenging one for the Generals this season.
Stuarts Draft won each of its first two meetings with Stonewall Jackson while outscoring the Generals by a combined 82 points, including a 109-56 drubbing in the teams' first matchup on Jan. 8. Stonewall Jackson has allowed 204 total points to the Cougars this season.
Smoot said ball control on offense will be key if the Generals hope to slow down Stuarts Draft's high-powered offense.
No matter the outcome, Smoot and the rest of the Generals can take pride in the quick turnaround the program experienced this season.
"This season is a success no matter how it finishes out," Smoot said. "The story's not over yet, but success-wise, these kids have achieved more this year than they have in many years. And that's a credit to them."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com