Living for Friday Nights

Scott Myer's Fight against cancer can't keep him away from his Moore coaching job

Story by Jenni Carlson - photos by John Clanton

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OORE — Look at Scott Myers' face, his sunken eyes and his gaunt cheeks. Look at his skin, pale and sickly. Then, there are his eyebrows, his eyelashes and his hair. All of it is turning white. Not gray. White. Like the color has been drained.

This is the face of football at Moore High School.

This is the face of cancer.

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This is what strength looks like.

On a night when prep programs across the state will wear pink and collect donations in the name of cancer awareness, nowhere does that fight hit closer to home than Moore. The man hired nearly three years ago to guide the Lions through a school district split and lead a once-proud program back to glory is now fighting a foe bigger than Southmoore or Midwest City.

Scott Myers has renal kidney cancer.

He also has a football team to coach.

"Even if this is my life, I can do what I have to do," Myers said through tears. "If this is the pain I've got to live with, I can do it. I can manage this program.

"I can still coach."

But many people look at this 43-year-old who looks 20 or 30 years older and wonder why he would still want to coach. Why endure the long hours, the film sessions and the hot practices when he's so sick? Why spend precious time with a program that has won once since Halloween 2008?

Why?

Because no one knows better how fleeting this opportunity is, how strong you have to be to seize it.

There are only so many Friday nights.

The scariest word you'll ever hear

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Scott Myers is in his third season as the head football coach at Moore High School. Even though the Lions have won just one game during that time, the attitude inside the locker room is as good as it has ever been.Photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman

Scott Myers grew up wanting to be a Chandler Lion. His sophomore year, he became the starting quarterback. For three seasons, he led the Lions to the playoffs. His senior year they won it all.

Along the way, he found out what else he wanted to be — a coach.

"I've known since I was 16," he said.

He suspected that a 5-foot-10, 160-pound kid from Lincoln County wasn't going to have a long playing career. But he loved the game, the tactics, the teamwork and the tenacity. The older he got, the more he appreciated those life lessons. Why not teach them for the rest of his life?

He never imagined he'd be teaching the same life lessons he was using.

It started with serious back pain. Myers even remembers the exact date — Dec. 20.

It was his wife Shelly's birthday.

The pain brought him to his knees a couple of times, but he survived the day's festivities, then went to see the doctor the next morning.

Diagnosis?

"Sacroiliac out of whack," Myers said.

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Even though Scott Myers is battling renal kidney cancer, he doesn't show it on the sidelines. The head coach cheers and cajoles just as much as any of Moore's coaches.photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman

The symptoms fit an inflamed joint, so Myers took a steroid shot, got some pain pills and was told to come back in a month if he wasn't better.

Slowly but surely, Myers improved. But then in mid-January, he was putting up shoulder pads and wrenched his back. He felt like he had before and returned to the doctor, who decided to a run test.

The doctor found a tumor on Myers' kidney.

"At that point," he said, swallowing hard, "it really didn't hit me."

No one in the family saw it coming. Daughter Morgan, the oldest of the Myers' two children, said her dad was the healthy one in the family, tanned and toned.

"He's the only one who considers pop and chocolate a treat," she said.

But when they saw his full-body scan, it was lit up like a Christmas tree. The brightest areas were cancer, and they seemed to be everywhere. His kidney. His spine. His hip. His shoulder.

The cancer had metastasized.

"The scariest word you'll ever hear," Shelly said.

They planned to go to MD Anderson, the world-renowned cancer center in Houston. When they left Moore in late March, they had no idea how long they'd be gone.

"Don't worry," Myers' assistants told him. "We got the weight room. We got everything."

He had no doubts about their abilities.

But what about his?

He's always been so strong

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Scott Myers played quarterback at Chandler High School, leading the Lions to the playoffs three times and to the 1984 Class 2A state championship. That gives him a unique perspective when talking to Moore quarterback Vova Razryvin.photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman

Scott Myers spent the next month taking radiation treatments. These were high-dose blasts, six weeks' worth condensed into one. Most patients aren't candidates for such aggressive treatment.

"He's strong enough," doctors said. "He can handle it."

It still pushed him to the limit.

"It made him sick, sick, sick," Shelly remembered.

Family members who live near MD Anderson offered a place to stay. Still, the financial strain was significant.

The teachers at Moore gave the family restaurant gift cards and a food basket. The community of Woodward, where Myers coached before becoming the head coach at Moore, did a fundraiser and raised $4,500. The list of gifts goes on and on.

Despite the physical toll and the financial burden he was facing, Myers spent a big chunk of his time in Houston thinking about his team. The kids. The coaches. The future.

Myers is a planner. He's always looking ahead, always thinking about what comes next.

Yet, he didn't know what would come next for him.

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Scott Myers used to challenge players like quarterback Vova Razryvin to wind sprints. Now, he winces if he gets patted on the back too hard.photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman

Would he be able to coach again? Would he be able to motivate kids, or would he impede progress?

"That was a concern," he said, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I never want to do anything but help this program."

In early May, Myers finished treatments in Houston and returned to Moore just in time for spring football. It was his chance to see whether he could be on the practice field.

"He was out there doing everything," said Jason Paul, Myers' longtime friend and Moore's receivers coach. "It slows him down, but in his mind, he's not going to let the sickness overcome him."

Myers coaches quarterbacks, but because his throwing shoulder was the one that had cancer, he can't always demonstrate what he's teaching. Then again, sometimes he'll throw with his left arm.

"Just to bend over and pick up a football is a thought process — ‘Is it worth it, or should I call somebody over to get it?'" Myers said. "It's nothing unbearable. It's just that it hurts."

A longtime night owl, Myers just doesn't have the energy to stay up as late as he once did either.

He receives chemotherapy every night, taking four pills a couple hours after he eats dinner. The oral medication is only five years old, but it has had great success with patients who have cancer in their bones. The pills, though, are what have made Myers' hair turn white.

"He's like a little grandpa," Shelly said. "He's white-haired and so sunken."

She pursed quivering lips.

"That's hard to see."

The first week of the season, Myers' mother was flipping through the game program when she spotted a picture of her son. She broke into tears.

Myers, who takes a pain pill every four to six hours, struggles to stand.

But once he's up, he isn't standing around. Moore athletic director Bart Richardson found Myers one day this summer on a ladder installing a sound system for the players. His assistant coaches discovered him recently in the weight room racking new 45-pound plates.

Still, Myers has changed. The same guy who led Chandler to that state title with cracked ribs, a bum ankle and an injured knee now groans in his sleep when he simply rolls over at night. The same man who used to challenge his players to wind sprints now winces if someone pats him on the back too hard.

"He just doesn't have the strength," Shelly said. "He's always been so strong."

Scott Myers hasn't lost his strength. It just looks a little different these days.

Play for Coach

What started as a message scrawled on the players' wrist tape during the season opener has become a mantra at Moore.

PLAY FOR COACH

Win Win this Week

Many high school football games around the state tonight will be part on Win Win Week, including Moore's game against Southmoore. The statewide initiative raising cancer awareness is also taking donations for the fight against the disease.

If your game isn't a Win Win Week game, you can donate at www.OKStudentsCare.org

It's being printed on T-shirts, and it's a likely rallying cry tonight when Moore plays its Win-Win Week game against Southmoore.

"It's definitely a big deal to me," said Ryan Crain, a senior who hatched the "Play for Coach" idea. "I figure if he can be in his condition and be like this, I can play my heart out."

Fellow senior David Cowan said, "How can we complain about anything when he's still out there doing the same thing he would normally do?

"He's an inspiration to us."

Even though Moore's record is 1-21 since the school district's most recent split, players and coaches say spirits have never been higher. Paul, who has coached at Moore for a decade-plus, believes this squad had the best offseason in years. Camaraderie is high. Attendance is strong. Character is good.

No one is bailing.

Even though Moore is still looking for its first victory this season, the Lions haven't surrendered big plays or stopped playing hard.

"Those are trademarks of good coaching," former longtime Moore coach Tom Noles said.

Myers will return to MD Anderson early next month for a checkup. If the tumor on his kidney hasn't grown and the cancer in all those other spots hasn't returned, he will be taken off chemo, then his kidney will be removed.

"We'll do that right after your testing in October," the doctors originally told him.

Myers, who has dutifully followed all of their instructions, balked at that.

"I'll do whatever you say," he told them, "but there will be a couple more weeks of football. Is there any way that we could do that in November?"

Heck, Myers won't even miss a game the week he goes to Houston. He'll be gone Wednesday and Thursday but return in time for Friday night.

"He puts God and his family before football," Paul said. "But if someone told him ... that he couldn't coach, I don't think he'd be doing as good in his recovery.

"It edifies him."

Shelly said, "You'd have thought he would slow down, but this is what he loves. Win or lose or whatever, it's what he loves."

Cancer has exacted a heavy toll. It has taken his health. It has taken his middle-aged body. It has taken much. It has not taken away football.

There are only so many Friday nights.

Scott Myers wants all of his.