High School Football

St. James football coach on sideline hours after cancer news

It would take more than a diagnosis of cancer to keep St. James football coach Mark Fischer from the sidelines Friday night.

Fischer, who is in his second season with the Sharks, was diagnosed with bone and kidney cancer Friday, but he convinced doctors to let him leave the hospital to coach his players against Carvers Bay on the condition he return to the hospital Saturday.

For St. James Athletics Director Paula Lee, it was just another example of the passion Fischer has brought to the program and community.

“It would have to be a doctor’s order for me not to allow him to keep coaching,” Lee said. “… He’s good for our school, and he needs to be in that position.”

The coach, 48, said he went in for initial tests about a month ago after he tried to stop a door from shutting behind him and felt pain in his rib cage. Originally believed to be dislocated ribs, further tests revealed bone degeneration between the ribs and vertebrae.

Fischer also said the immediate impact of damage on his kidneys has yet to be discovered. Still, he’s doing his best to keep his spirits up.

“Maybe I’m stupid, but I’ve been looking at this thing like a hangnail,” Fischer said. “I’m going to do what I need to do and I’m going to kick this thing. … I’m going to get back to St. James and get this team winning. … All I know how to do is get down in a three-point stance and run through it.”

Fischer informed his players and assistant coaches of the diagnosis after Friday night’s game.

He said doctors initially told him his life expectancy of the dual cancers is seven to eight years. However, he was scheduled to undergo more tests Saturday afternoon and much of this week.

“I’ve got to go through all the stuff,” said Fischer. “I’ve got to start seeing the oncologists on Monday. We’re in the infancy of this thing.”

Lee, who was with Fischer back in August when he hurt himself holding the door, said the school is 100 percent committed to making sure the coach has everything possible to get healthy, and as a result, remain the Sharks’ head coach.

Fischer said assistant head coach and offensive line coach Ricky Cox will assume Fischer’s spot on an interim basis. Fischer said he will still be as involved as possible with the team, but he wants to keep things as normal as possible for the players.

The biggest issue in those terms, he said, was the inability to predict his course of treatment or his response.

“I don’t want to be a focal point,” Fischer said. “But I don’t want it to drag on and the kids wondering if I’m going to be there or not.”

St. James is 4-11 so far since Fischer was hired. The Sharks head to Georgetown this week to begin Region VII-AAA play still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Fischer came to St. James before the start of the 2011 season following a successful seven-year stint at Louisa County, Va. There, he was twice named the Associated Press’ coach of the year in the state and helped lead one of the largest turnarounds in Virginia history.

On Friday, after Fischer told his “new family” about the diagnosis, Lee said it was an obviously emotional time, especially for the players.

“It’s been tough,” she said. “I think one of the toughest things was talking to him. I got absolutely teary-eyed. Those kids absolutely worship him. There was not a dry eye walking out of that locker room.”