Saturday, February 1, 2020

Holt Bashinsky and his uncle, Sloan Bashinsky: out of great tragedy can come great beauty and/or the totally unexpected


Holt Bashinsky

The other day, a childhood friend texted asking if I had seen the article at Village Living (villiagelivingonline.com) about my brother Major's son, Holt? I said I had not. I read the article online and told my friend I was impressed. What a heroic journey. 

Early tragedy molded Spartans’ Bashinsky into uncommon leader

January 23, 2020

Forgive Holt Bashinsky if he doesn’t remember every detail about the tragedy that’s shaped his life. He was only 8 years old when his father, Major, shot himself in the head.

“It was surreal,” Holt said, “and obviously not in a good way.”
Holt was in Florida on spring break with his mother, Leslie, and sister, Nelle, when they learned what happened. Major’s body had been found in a pond at Highland Park Golf Course a few weeks earlier in March 2010, his mouth covered with tape and his hands bound by rope.
It took investigators some time to determine that he had staged his own murder. The discovery blindsided his family.
“It was something that you would think wouldn’t happen to you,” Leslie said, “something like you would see in a movie.”
Major’s death became a news story that garnered both local and national media attention. Part of that was because of his family, which held a majority ownership stake in Golden Flake Snack Foods Company.
The unwanted spotlight that befell Major’s wife and two children following his suicide made things difficult for them. Leslie had to have “adult” conversations with Holt and Nelle as elementary students — dispelling rumors, explaining what unfolded and imploring them to block out any negative chatter they heard at school.
She also reminded Holt and Nelle of her vast love for them. Even though their family had dwindled, they would carry on.
“They’ve done the best they can,” Leslie said.
It’s been more than enough.
While his father’s death sowed much sorrow, it also molded Holt, 18, into the young man he’s become. He’s now a senior at Mountain Brook High School who shines both in the classroom and on the hardwood, starting for the Spartans varsity basketball team that is pursuing a fourth straight Class 7A state title.
Head coach Bucky McMillan doesn’t hesitate to call Holt the hardest working player in a program full of them. His 6-foot-5 shooting guard, who drains 3s at a 47% clip, furnishes a level of maturity and leadership that only someone in his shoes could.
“I mean, it definitely made me grow up faster than a lot of my peers,” Holt said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but God has a plan.”
It’s a divine plan dotted with his mother’s fingerprints. Holt calls Leslie his best friend and role model, and he credits her for his athleticism and work ethic. Long before she juggled the responsibilities of being a single parent, she played tennis at Arizona State University.
Leslie, a tennis pro, now plays competitive pickleball. It’s not uncommon for her to wake in the early morning hours — sometimes at 4 or 5 — to hone her craft. Last summer, she won the national singles title in her age group at the Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“She’s an extremely, extremely hard worker,” Holt said. “I definitely got that from her.”
In her husband’s absence, Leslie assumed stereotypical dad duties. She threw the football with her kids, caught their pitches and rebounded their shots. Nelle, a sophomore at a private school in Virginia, is also an athlete.
Leslie’s involvement didn’t wane as her children grew up. A couple of summers ago, between Holt’s ninth- and 10th-grade year, McMillan walked into the high school’s weight room at 11 o’clock one July night to find Holt lifting weights.
His mom was there too, spotting him as he logged rep after rep.
“He pays the price,” McMillan said. “He’s the guy here on Saturdays for four and five hours shooting...he’s the guy that instead of going to the lake in the summer, he’s in the gym playing.”
Added Spartans assistant coach Stu Stuedeman: “Holt’s the man. He’s the best human being I’ve ever met his age.”
Holt has played basketball since he was in elementary school and always dreamed of suiting up for the Spartans. As a kid, he attended Mountain Brook games alongside many of the guys with whom he now takes the floor. Holt made the varsity team his sophomore year — but was limited by a stress fracture in his back — and then played around 10 minutes per game while coming off the bench last season.
This year, he’s shouldering a much larger load and is scoring close to 13 points per contest. In December, Holt helped the Spartans become the first team from Alabama to win the Arby’s Classic in Tennessee, where he made the all-tournament team.
“He really just plays with veteran leadership, and it’s bigger than him,” McMillan said. “It’s not just like when he’s playing well he’s a good leader. When he’s not playing his best game, he’s still going to be a leader because he understands the goal is for our team to do well, and he has a standard.”
Holt didn’t take extra measures to prepare for his senior campaign. He’s always stayed ready in case his number got called.
In the offseason, that has meant making 300 to 500 shots per day, enduring those late-night weight sessions and fine-tuning his skill set. While he can drill the deep ball, he’s more than a shooter.
“I mean, I want to be able to take what the defenses give me,” Holt said. “If they run to the 3-point line, I mean, I’m big enough, strong enough to get contact, go and lay the ball up or get to the free throw line.”
No matter the scoring method, Holt can count on seeing his mom in the bleachers whenever he makes a basket. Leslie attends every game she can and texts her son a Bible verse before he takes the floor.
Faith has played a big role in the family’s healing. Holt said he used to harbor anger about his father’s death, asking God why He allowed tragedy to strike. But prayer has brought peace.
“I think that through my faith I’ve definitely been able to find the answers that I don’t think I would have been able to find if it wasn’t for my faith,” Holt said. “...As a family, I don’t think there’s anything else that’s powerful enough other than God to heal you from something that traumatic.”
Holt has resolved to play basketball after he graduates from Mountain Brook. So far, he’s received offers from a pair of NCAA Division II schools — Trevecca Nazarene University in Tennessee and the University of Montevallo — and garnered interest from a few Division I schools, including Campbell, Samford and VMI.
Holt has consulted with former teammate Alex Washington, a Harvard freshman, about his future. Washington has told him that choosing a college is a 40-year decision, not just a four-year decision. Holt understands the implications and is determined to find the right destination.
“If the only place he could play basketball was Alaska — there was nowhere else — or Antarctica, he would go do it next year,” McMillan said. “He’s going to play college basketball regardless.”
Leslie understands her son’s desire. She was that way too. Upon graduating from high school, she knew she wanted to play college tennis.
“He just loves the game,” she said. “He’s very passionate about it.”
That’s easy to tell as Holt talks about basketball one January afternoon while sitting in a conference room beside the high school’s gymnasium.
He estimates he’s played about eight games in 12 days, and his body is feeling it. But that’s OK.
Holt has long aspired to be in this position. After the storms he’s weathered, he’s not going to let the opportunity slip away.
“I really am just blessed to be where I am today, honestly,” Holt said, pausing. “Just thank God for where I am today.”

I grew up in Mountain Brook, an "over the mountain" Birmingham, Alabama suburb. Major's and my mother was named Nelle. I named my first daughter, Nelle. Her older brother died of sudden infant death syndrome at the start of my last semester at the University of Alabama School of Law. I was a wreck, lost my way, struggled for years, until I finally asked God to help me. A few days later, I was woken up by two angels in the wee hours and told my prayer had been answered. Things started changing. 

About a year and a half later, I returned for the first time to my son's unmarked grave resting at the foot of my mother's grave and burst into tears. I came back another day and burst into tears again. I kept coming back until there were no tears. I had a stone marker placed over his grave: "Infant Son: He opened our hearts and set us on our journey." 

If my son had not died, I might have lived out my days in Mountain Brook. Instead, I lived in a number of places in Birmingham proper and out of state. My life became totally different from anything I could possibly imagine when I attended law school. Last fall, I wrote a book painting some of that often stranger than fiction journey, A Southern Lawyer Who Became a Mystic is available in paperback at amazonbooks.com for $9.95, and soon in kindle.

sloanbashinsky@yahoo.com


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