The Harbinger Online

Football Players are Inspired by Coach Sherman’s Strength

[media-credit id=147 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Will Webber
I’m a quitter by nature. I’ve never been afraid of trying something new, but finishing is a different story. My attic is a shrine to my short-lived passions, complete with gently used shin-guards, undersized jerseys and stacks of entry-level piano, guitar and violin books. It’s not that I’m incapable of success – I have no trouble cruising through academics and other activities that come easy to me. But when the going gets tough, I get going. And in the spring of 2011, the going got really tough.

I had been seeing an asthma and allergy specialist after a particularly unhealthy year, which included three bouts with pneumonia and a hospital stay. So there I sat, in the sterilized doctor’s office, awaiting the results of my blood tests.

The doctor informed me that my immune system doesn’t work so well. I catch nearly every disease around me, and my body does nothing to prevent it from spreading and growing in severity. Every week for the rest of my life, I would infuse healthy antibodies into my blood stream through IVs. The process usually takes two hours, and yes, it does hurt every time I push the needles through my own stomach. Even worse is the toll that it takes on my body afterwards; I become overwhelmed with soreness and fatigue. I didn’t react to the diagnosis. I felt sorry for myself. But three weeks later, everything fell back into perspective.

It was the first day of summer football conditioning when Coach Sherman told us about his cancer. I sat in stunned silence along with the rest of the team.

How is that even possible?

He was invincible in my eyes; this was the man who opened up the weight room at the crack of dawn to work out harder than any guy half his age. I couldn’t accept that someone so healthy could get cancer. I guess Coach wouldn’t accept it either; he came to practice each day with the same vigor and positive attitude that we had always admired.

Even as he battled this terrible affliction, Coach put others’ well-being before his own. He recognized how I struggled on the first couple of days following each treatment and suggested that I sit out anytime I began to feel bad. Sure enough, I did feel bad, but I tried to follow his example and push through the pain. He was facing Stage 4 cancer and never showed a trace of weakness. I believe his attitude provided me with a dose of inspiration that helped me in ways my treatments never could. The whole team felt this motivation from Coach, and we showed our support by shaving our heads as he underwent chemotherapy. I wanted Coach to beat his cancer more than anything.

[media-credit id=147 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]My teammates were all in. They lived and breathed football; from the moment they woke up, it was weights, protein, practice, film. I just couldn’t get into it; couldn’t shake off the feeling of dread before every practice; couldn’t ignore the lingering sting from my infusions every time I got hit; couldn’t convince myself that the effort was worth the little playing time I was getting. In just the second week of the season, I found myself in a very familiar situation – ready to quit. I waited for coach after practice, my parting speech replaying through my head. I began to tell him about my concerns of health and playing time, but I saw my own pathetic reflection in his eyes and stopped mid-sentence.

Was I really trying to tell a man fighting cancer that this was too much for me? My treatments lasted two hours; his lasted seven. My shaved hair would return in a matter of weeks; his wouldn’t. I think Coach knew what I was trying to do, but he stopped me from making a monumental mistake.

“Maybe you could try things out at linebacker this week,” he suggested.

“Yeah. That sounds good, Coach.”

I played every game this season for the first time in my career. Between my freshman and junior year, I caught bronchitis, H1N1 and pneumonia multiple times. But this year, nothing was more contagious than perseverance. I became part of a team that just wouldn’t quit.

In the last few minutes of our playoff game against the eventual state champs, everyone knew that we were facing imminent defeat. But none of us could accept that it was over. This couldn’t be the last time that I would congratulate a teammate after a touchdown. I cherished every neon-orange second that ticked down the end of my career. This couldn’t be that last time that I would line up on the 50-yard line and bitterly shake hands with the opposing team. But as I solemnly repeated “good game” to each Olathe South player, I realized that it wouldn’t be their last. And I boarded the team bus for one last ride.

In a few weeks, I probably won’t remember where I’m supposed to line up in our stack defense. But I’ll never forget Coach Sherman’s true lessons. He proves every day that no challenge is too great for the human spirit. Coach showed me that I’m not a quitter; I’m strong enough to overcome my own obstacles. I couldn’t quit if I tried.

***

[media-credit id=147 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Adam Lowe
Day in and day out Coach Sherman proved us all wrong. On days when anyone else would quit, he kept going. He inspired us, he taught us and he supported us in everything. After our first break-down of the summer workouts, I already knew something was going to be different about this season.

As my teamates and I slowly walked off the field, coach spoke out in his raspy voice over the crowd. He needed the juniors and seniors, apparently he had some thing to “talk to us about”.

Nothing could have possibly prepared me for what I was about to hear, or how I’d react. He calmly told us he had been diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer.

I was devasteted. It seriously felt like I had been hit by a train. The first thing that came to my mind was, how long does he have to live? Over the next couple of weeks he proved me wrong time and time again. Not only did he continue living, but he didn’t skip a beat. He was so nonchalant about it. He made it seem like it was just going to be easy.

And it wasn’t all what he did, but what he didn’t do that inspired me. It was the times when he wouldn’t complain even though anyone else would have. These were the times that he taught me and all of my teamates so many life lessons without trying. These were the times that made him Coach Sherman.

Every single day he would come to practice with just as much energy as anyone of us on the field. Never once did he complain. Not when the hot sun from practice was bothering him after a day of chemo. Not when the radiation was making his throat so sore he could barely talk. And definetly not when a treatment session happened to land on the same day as a game. He never needed to worry, since he was so mentally tough. That definitely made me play harder. If he could do it, I could block better. Being able to watch him go through his unbearable fight was such an honor and a learning opportunity for me in so many ways.

***

The worst feeling you can have as a running back is seeing the ball fall out of your hands. Seeing it roll around on the turf is agonizing. The main job the running back has is to hold onto the football and when the ball is on the ground, you have failed, and in week four of my junior football season, I experienced that feeling of pure terror for the first time ever on a varsity stage. As I walked off the field I felt nothing but pure disgust in myself. I looked over at Coach Sherman and at that moment, he began one of the most prolonged butt-chewings I have ever been apart of on a high school playing field.

[media-credit id=147 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]Sherman yelled and he screamed and then he walked away. And then he yelled again and screamed again and finally walked away. All of this lasting over the span of about eight to ten minutes.

As I stood there on the sideline licking my wounds, Sherman came over to make his real point. He came up to me and looked me straight in the eye and said “Adam I believe in you, and I want you to go out there and show me what you can do.”

Sherman knew I could handle that, in fact, he knew that the butt chewing I had received that night would stay with me for a long time and help me even after football. He knew that because he cared and he made sure he really knew us, unlike most football coaches. But Sherman was one of a kind in that way. He was such a good teacher and motivator that he made the things he taught us on the field applicable in life. At the end of the game, I could tell Sherman knew I took someting from the football field that day; not necessarily about how to hold a ball, but how to take criticism and use it to learn on the spot.

He was able to teach me a lesson while also showing us respect at the same time.

***

Ever since I started playing football in sixth grade, I had always dreamed about my senior football season. I had alwasy hoped I would stay healthy and enjoy a great last year on the field, but on Aug. 23, just nine days away from the the first game, my hopes took a hit from a 250 pound deffensive lineman.

I got tackled on my left knee, and ended up tearing my MCL. I would miss at least two games of my senior season.

This was a gut check. Never had I ever felt so down for so long. All my hard work flew out the window. I felt like I could watch it staring me down while I sat in the doctors office hearing the diagnosis.

I didn’t feel like going to school that next day, but then I thought of Sherman. I knew in the back of my mind that this was exactly what he would not want me to do. When I eventally did tell him, he reacted just like Sherman would. He was positive and didn’t rush me back into the game before I was totally ready.

The majority of football coaches would try and hurry you back to play and not really be worried about your health, but not Coach Sherman. Again it was what he didn’t say that really made the difference. I knew he didn’t want to hear what I was saying. But he swollowed that urge and told me exactly what I needed to hear. He would be there at anytime of the day or night if there was anything he could do to help me. And I loved him for it, because he actually meant it. I’ll always remember what he told me before I left his office: He told me that he knew I would be strong and get through this. He believed in me, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me that either.

[media-credit id=147 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]As this last season came to an end, I have closed the door on a very important chapter of my life. I have now been able reflect more on the sport that I loved and the Coach that I have learned so much from. I look back there are so many memories I treasure and so many things I have been fortunate to be a part of. I thank Coach Sherman for being a part of my life and for teaching me so much, even though he didn’t always mean to. Sherman continues to prove me wrong every single day, but now, I will have to watch him do it from the stands. Even though my playing years are over, I know Coach would just want me to appretiate the things I have learned from him, and from football, and use it for the rest of my life to be the best person I can be.

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Will Webber

Will is a senior in his second year with the Harbinger. Will writes about a wide range of topics for the print publication and is also a top contributor for the website's online broadcasts. He enjoys wearing suits and commentating varsity basketball games. Read Full »

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