When sport becomes 'so much more'

COOS BAY — Last year, the Brookings-Harbor High School basketball teams held a cancer awareness night. Who knew this year it would mean so much more?

The school encourages each of its teams to pick some project of community service, and in 2011 the basketball squads decided to raise funds for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

The school donated half of the gate receipts to the relay and also held an auction that night. The players were asked to get to know someone who had been impacted by cancer — either a cancer survivor, a family member impacted by cancer or a caregiver.

Jon Young, the boys basketball coach and the school's athletic director, said he considered the night a big success. "It was a great concept," he said. "It went really well."

At this year's cancer awareness night, Jan. 13, the atmosphere was much different.

"This year it meant so much more," Young said.

That's because all the players know very well a cancer survivor — one of their teammates and fellow students.

Tyler Wood, the starting shooting guard on the boys team, was diagnosed with testicular cancer during football season. "Having one of your own athletes going through the process right now, the meaning of the night took on a whole different level," Young said.

Wood's situation has helped all the students realize how real cancer is, which has been a valuable lesson, Young said.

It helps that the outlook for the senior is good.

"We caught it early," Wood said. "With my type (of cancer), they say the cure rate is almost 99 percent."

Wood had surgery to remove a large cancer mass and has followed that up with chemotherapy for two small tumors in his abdomen.

Wood admitted being scared when he first learned about the cancer.

"It was pretty freaky at first," he said. "It's one of those things. You hear about cancer all the time and you say, 'Oh, it will never happen to me.' And it does."

The cancer diagnosis ended Wood's football season, but one of the first things he did was to visit with Young about basketball.

"Right after I found out I had it, I went down to his office and talked to him," Wood said.

Young remembers Wood's determination to be ready to play.

"He said, 'Coach, I'm going to be there. Count on me. It's my senior year.' "

The big question was how his body would respond to the chemotherapy.

So far, so good.

"After the first treatment, I knew I'd be able to play for sure," Wood said.

He's had three rounds of chemotherapy so far.

He missed Friday's game against Sutherlin, but hopes to be back for the Jan. 27 game against Douglas.

The rounds of chemotherapy left him without energy for a few days. But the desire to be part of the team has helped him through.

He wants to help his team be successful.

"I've almost every day since my freshman year got up at 5 a.m. and got to the gym at 6 and shot for an hour and lifted (weights) for an hour," he said.

Young said Wood was an occasional starter last year and was penciled in early as one of the key players this season.

"He started all summer for us and put in a lot of work for us," the coach said.

On the court, the senior hasn't been as successful as he'd hoped. In last week's game at North Bend, he missed all his shots, though he made several outstanding passes to teammates for easy buckets.

"I think Tyler will tell you he's not where he wants to be as a basketball player," Young said. "That's secondary as far as his health."

Wood has never had to worry about any negative reaction from his teammates.

"They've been really supportive," he said. "Once my hair started falling out, after one of the practices, most of the guys shaved their heads."

Young said the teammates have stuck up for Woods when students from other schools made some negative comments about the player without any hair, who had to wear a protective mask in warm-ups during a tournament after his first round of chemotherapy.

"They've been great," Young said.

Wood said he wants to play well for the team, ideally helping the Bruins make the playoffs at the end of the season. His biggest goal, though, involves North Bend.

"I want to beat North Bend," he said. "We've been playing them since the jamboree of my seventh-grade year and we've never beaten them."

The Bruins get their second shot at the Bulldogs on Jan. 31, when North Bend visits Brookings.

In the meantime, Wood will continue to be an inspiration for his team and the community.

Because of the player, the Jan. 13 cancer awareness night was a bigger hit than last year, Young said.

"It was awesome," he said. "We asked the community to come out and wear purple. That's the color for cancer in general.

Wood said he was touched by the evening, to a point.

"It was emotional," he said. "Once the ball goes up, it was just another game."

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