The Ferris Saxons baseball team is learning, through the ordeal of an assistant coach, how overcoming adversity is the cornerstone of baseball and surviving a life-threatening illness.
The Saxons had already lived through plenty of adversity last season in a 1-18 campaign before they learned late last year that assistant coach Danny Higgins had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Earlier this month, most of the team members shaved their heads and visited the 27-year-old Higgins during his 15-day hospital stay, which was the result of an immune system weakened by four rounds of chemotherapy.
“It’s overwhelming to see the kids you have been coaching and teaching to be better people show up right in front of you,” Higgins said. “As soon as they left, I was busting out in tears with my wife.”
Senior Clayton Novotney suffered a broken hand last year that kept him on the bench with Higgins. He said he formed a special bond with a coach who is young enough to easily relate with the players.
“It hit home when I found out he had cancer,” Novotney said. “It was pretty powerful to see him really weak and not really himself after all the chemotherapy. But to see him happy again when we walked in, it gave a lot of inspiration to the team.”
Just a few days after that visit, Higgins got out of the hospital and he learned on March 15 that the scans showed he was virtually cancer free.
“To hear that he was in remission was really exciting for the team,” Novotney said. “We kind of coined the term, ‘Do it for Danny.’ Whenever we are playing a game … when you come up with a big hit, you want to do it for Danny.”
Higgins, who along with his wife, Shalise, had been avid volleyball players, said he can’t wait until he’s strong enough to return to the dugout full-time.
“I went to the doctor confident. Oh man, it was a relief,” Higgins said of his doctor visit. “I gave my wife a hug. She’s been right by my side the whole time. It’s almost been worse for her. She’s been raising a 3-year-old and caring for a husband with cancer.”
A recent fundraiser at Eastern Washington, organized by his volleyball friends, helped raise money for the medical bills. It also earned a high-profile supporter. When former President Bill Clinton visited Spokane on Monday to stump for his wife, he wore a “Team Danny” wristband.
Head coach Scott Ward, who has played or coached with Higgins since they were both 13, said he’s had many discussions with his team about how they can apply the cancer struggle to baseball.
“At the end of the day, he really couldn’t control whether he beat cancer,” Ward said. “He just had to battle and fight each day the best he could. Either way, he was going to be a winner over cancer because of the way he approached each day.”
While he’s not yet been cleared to get out in the ever-changing weather, Higgins did make it to a Ferris game for about an inning. Cameron Liss was pitching.
“I saw him in the dugout wearing a Ferris hat,” Liss said. “That made me smile a little bit. There’s my coach, but he’s also my friend. When he comes back and is coaching again, it will be just like old times.”