White’s cancer battle inspires Mt. View team
When Mountain View took to the court for its first game this season there was an empty seat on the bench.
It’s one that has been reserved for the past 25 years for volunteer assistant coach Don White.
And it caused a basketball community to hurt emotionally.
After months of not feeling his best, White was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in late August. In October, he began six weeks of intense radiation and chemotherapy to shrink his tumor, keeping him from opening day, and the entire first half of the season.
While his battle is ongoing, White took the time to visit the players at Mountain View, providing them some inspiration as the team gets ready to raise money as part of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer weekend.
On Saturday, the Eagles host rival Lackawanna Trail as part of the fundraising effort.
“He is the heart and soul of the program,” Mountain View senior Chris Herman said. “He’s been here it seems like forever. He’s always been supportive and encouraging.”
Always a fighter
As a boy, Don White faced his first battle with adversity.
In 1963, while riding a tricycle, a car that had been parked and without a driver came barreling toward him after the brake somehow released.
It crushed his left leg, forcing it to be amputated just below the knee.
Having a prosthetic leg essentially ended his hopes of playing competitive athletics, but he always found time to play ball in the barn.
After graduation, he found a way to support the basketball program, as scorekeeper for longtime coach Bill McLaughlin.
And he’s been with the program ever since.
It’s been his passion.
“He’s been here for a very long time,” Mountain View senior Julian Williams said. “I remember going to AAU games and he would be doing our book for AAU.
“He means a lot to our program.”
His toughest battle
During any Mountain View season, White could be found either on the bench or taking score.
Each year brought new faces, an excitement and hope for success.
And his goal was for the Eagles to play their best game every night.
“He’s an incredible guy and incredibly nice,” Herman said. “He’s kind and caring toward every member of the team, no matter if you are a freshman or a senior.”
Last season, though, something just didn’t seem right.
He always struggled with back pain, caused by his limp from the prosthetic leg, and that masked his discomfort.
Then, doctors delivered the news. He had cancer.
“It wasn’t as bad as when I lost my leg,” White said. “I just told my family and my doctor that I would do what I had to do to fight this.”
But that would mean taking a leave of absence from the boys basketball team and the coaching duties he loved.
“I’ve been doing this for such a long time,” White said, beginning to get choked up. “That was really, really tough for me.”
The news also shook the basketball program.
“I think it’s tough whenever you find out somebody has cancer,” said Mountain View coach Lawrence Tompkins, who is one of the organizers of the Coaches vs. Cancer weekend. “But it’s a lot tougher when it is somebody you spend so much of your time with. “We always have a golf tournament and we raised some money to help with his medical costs. But most of all we wanted to do whatever we could to help him. We know he is a strong man and he will pull through.”
A tearful return
When White surprised the team with a visit last week, there were hugs and handshakes.
And a lot of smiles.
“He’s a tough guy,” Herman said. “He’s the nicest guy ever and I won’t believe that anything bad will happen to him.”
On Monday, White will endure the next step of his recovery: a surgery he and doctors hope will help him win this battle.
For now, the 54-year-old says he is feeling the best he has in a long time.
His trip back to the gym, and the outpouring of love, certainly helped.
“It feels really good that they care so much,” White said.