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'Enjoy the day' bracelets honor the memory of Coach James Lee

Published on Monday, Jan. 23, 2022

james, grace and jenniferHe scored a lot of points during his life as an athlete and a coach, but probably the biggest “point” James Lee ever made was about the importance of being positive.

Enjoy the day, he would tell his basketball players at the end of every practice. It was also how he signed off on e-mails and text messages to loved ones.

Three simple words that have deeply resonated with those who were fortunate enough to know him.

James passed away unexpectedly yet peacefully in sleep on the morning of Nov. 2, 2022. He was 50 years old.

James worked in logistics for the transportation industry but will be best remembered for the love he had for his family, and the love he had for coaching children – particularly his daughter. He had just signed on to be the coach of the girls’ basketball team at Philip Simmons Middle at the time when he passed away.

Now the communities of Philip Simmons Middle and Daniel Island are coming together to honor the memory of Coach Lee and show support for his family by donning special bracelets that symbolize the upbeat personality of a man who taught his players even more than how to dribble a basketball.

James was an outstanding high school athlete who enjoyed baseball, tennis, golf and, particularly, basketball.

In the 1980s, James was a hometown celebrity in Wytheville, Virginia, where he was a member of the Wythe County Sports Hall of Fame.

He was known in high school for his ability to make shots – especially three-pointers. He reached 1,000 points by his junior year of high school and accumulated more than 1,500 points by the time he graduated. During games it was common to hear the phrase “J-Lee for three.”

He played basketball at Campbell University. For two years, James was ranked in the top 20 for three-pointers in the Big South Conference.

James’s wife of 11 years, Jennifer, said her husband’s biggest joy was both coaching and children.

“He had a way of getting the kids to focus and listen and learn, but to have fun at the same time,” she said.

If there was anything he liked more than coaching and playing basketball, it was doing so with his daughter, Grace, a fifth-grader at Philip Simmons Middle. Jennifer said Grace was hers and James’s miracle baby, and her dad was very much her best friend.

“Grace’s only dreams are to get a scholarship for college, play in the WNBA – and then coach,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer said he was a very positive person, and wanted that positivity to spread among the children he coached. His catchphrase “Enjoy the day!” came from his belief that every day should be treated as a gift.

Jennifer said he wanted his players to remember: “You might have tough things going on, but find the positive as well and try to keep it balanced.”

James previously coached basketball through i9 Sports off of Clements Ferry Road. With Grace starting at Philip Simmons Middle this past year, he decided to sign up to coach the girls’ basketball team at the school.

He passed away right before practices were about to start. Eric Bendig, football coach at Philip Simmons High, has now stepped in to help coach the girls’ basketball team at Philip Simmons Middle.

“It has been a pleasure coaching these girls,” Bendig said. “Coach Lee was a huge part of this community and with these girls. He loved this school and these families. Over the last couple of years, we became friends and I cherish the time we had. It was an honor and privilege to coach his team.”

Many of the girls from the Philip Simmons and Daniel Island School’s basketball teams had played under his guidance at i9 Sports, and word traveled quickly about James passing away.

close up of bracelet that reads "enjoy the day!"Berkeley County School District school psychologist and Daniel Island resident Olivia Daniel coaches the girls’ team at Daniel Island School. After learning what happened to James, she wanted to do something that would not only support his family, but show her players the importance of being involved in their community during hardships.

“You have to be motivated to do things for others,” she said, adding, “It’s our job as parents and people in the community for kids to witness it and to be a part of it.”

Daniel spoke with one of James’s close friends through i9 Sports and learned about his catchphrase. Daniel opted to make purple rubber bracelets that sported “Enjoy the Day!” as a reminder to whoever wears the bracelets that even when things are hard, they will persevere. 

The bracelets also read “#fearthepurple” to represent Iron Horse pride.

Daniel ordered 150 bracelets to be sold at $3 apiece. All 150 bracelets sold out in one day, so Daniel ordered more. Both of the girls’ basketball teams from Philip Simmons Middle and Daniel Island School are sporting the bracelets.

Word of the bracelets has extended even beyond Berkeley County; Christ Our King’s girls basketball team caught wind of the initiative and reached out requesting bracelets for the whole team as well. 

All of the proceeds go directly to James’s family. So far, the bracelets have raised $700.

Anyone who wants a bracelet can e-mail girlosprey5@yahoo.com. Bracelets can be delivered.

Jennifer learned about the bracelets after seeing it on Facebook, and she has truly been touched by the gesture.

“The bracelets are helping his legacy live on and the positivity he would want to share,” Jennifer said.

She wears one of the bracelets on her right wrist.

“I’ll never take it off,” she said. “I now get to feel like I have a part of him with me every single day.”

The family is still very much grieving the loss of James, but Jennifer said the community’s generosity has taken good care of them, and that it is difficult to put into words how much it means to the Lees.

“It’s just a feeling you have in your heart,” Jennifer said. “It’s too big for words.”

 james cheering with team

 

Monica Kreber
kreberm@bcsdschools.net