Along with an emotional video tribute, bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” while the Binghamton University men’s and women’s basketball teams lined up on the Events Center floor in between their doubleheader games on Saturday. The 28 athletes closed an emotional chapter of their lives, formally paying tribute to their deceased teammate Calistus Anyichie. Anyichie, a rising sophomore on the men’s basketball team, died in a drowning accident last July.
This season, every basketball player will be wearing a patch with his No. 14 on their right shoulders, and 14 has been painted onto both baselines of the Events Center court. The number has become ingrained in the minds of student-athletes in memory of the life Anyichie lived.
For some athletes, the No. 14 has additional personal meaning. Kelly Quinn, a junior midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team, also wears the No. 14 jersey and was close to Anyichie.
“It’s affecting me in a way that there are times where I feel guilt for having that number and knowing that he’s not here to represent that number too,” Quinn said. “I broke down after our first captain’s practice … I broke down after our green and white scrimmage. We were promoting it for people to come and I knew he would’ve been one of the people there.”
After returning to campus this fall, Quinn was motivated to find a way to formally pay tribute to her late friend. She led an effort to purchase armbands embroidered with the No. 14 for all of BU’s student-athletes.
“I didn’t want to do an ordinary T-shirt, because how often do you really want to wear that, and what do you even put on it,” Quinn said. “I had thought of the idea of an armband to show this is who we’re actually playing for. Anyone can wear it, all the time.”
The armbands arrived a few weeks ago and were met with positive reception from student-athletes.
“Our coach handed them out to us not too long ago, and everybody was super excited,” said Essie Bonney, a junior forward on the women’s soccer team. “I feel like in any way we can show our love for him, anybody will do it in a heartbeat. We got those armbands, and people put them on as soon as possible.”
Bonney and Quinn both lived in Windham Hall of Mountainview College last year, along with Anyichie and several other student-athletes. He immediately recognized Bonney’s African heritage, and the two developed a close friendship as a result.
“People have actually made sure that I’m OK, and I make sure other people are OK too because I know he left a lasting impression on other people too,” Bonney said. “It’s kinda like a family type of vibe where’s everybody’s checking in on each other and making sure everyone’s OK.”
While Anyichie was closest with Bonney, the loss affected several members of the women’s soccer team. The players wore No. 14 patches on their warmup shirts throughout the season.
“I just knew when I came [back to campus], it gave me an extra oomph to push myself and have the best season,” Bonney said. “I thought to myself, ‘I have to play for Cal.’ He would’ve had his breakout season this year too.”
The tragedy occurred one week into the men’s and women’s basketball teams’ summer training programs, devastating the women’s team as much as the men’s. Sophomore guard Hayley Moore also lived in Windham Hall as a freshman, across the hall from Anyichie and his men’s basketball classmates.
“We spent a lot of time together, including winter breaks, summer — he was really close to us, like a brother almost,” Moore said. “When we found out, we were the only team that was here with them … It definitely hit us really hard for a couple of weeks after, and even now we’ll be in the training room or something and he won’t be there, and just say, ‘We miss Cal.’”
In the immediate aftermath of Anyichie’s death, both teams traveled to New Jersey for his funeral. Moore was impressed by the turnout, which included several other BU student-athletes who lived nearby.
“It just showed how well-liked and how much he was loved because there were so many people there,” Moore said. “It was nice to see everyone come out that truly loved him, and it showed.”
Moore, along with the other athletes who knew Anyichie, are focused on moving forward, furthering their athletic careers while keeping his legacy in mind.
“I know he was so excited to go through four years at this school, and I’m going to keep living on his legacy,” Moore said. “I always keep in the back of my head what he would want and what he did.”
Throughout Saturday’s tribute, student-athletes from nearly every team filled the north-end bleachers of the Events Center, many donning the armbands brought about by Quinn’s efforts.
“It’s just a way for me to remind myself that he’s still here,” Quinn said. “This is who we’re playing for this season, and this is who I want to win for this season … We want to represent him and live up to the legacy that he left here at [BU], even though his time here was short.”
The tributes will continue throughout the season, with student-athletes wearing No. 14 patches and armbands. Quinn will wear the No. 14 jersey on the lacrosse field, keeping his memory in mind as she attempts to exemplify what Anyichie meant to BU as an athlete and as a person.
“Personally, for me, I want to represent 14 in the way I know he would’ve,” Quinn said. “I know he would’ve done good. He would’ve worked hard and tried to be the best he could be … I feel grateful that I have people around me that are also hurting and they’re happy that we did something for him, something to keep his memory alive within [BU] athletics.”