The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, May 11, 2022 1:00 am

Coach may have lost 'battle,' but he won our hearts

Ben Smith | For The Journal Gazette

They always frame it as an “L” when it's cancer vs. human. “So-and-so lost his battle with cancer yesterday,” the news reports will say.

Sometimes it's a short battle and sometimes it's a long battle, but it's always a “battle,” and someone always has to lose a battle.

Far too often, it's the human.

This time, it was Marc Davidson.

Davidson died Monday, 19 months after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, a few months less than that after he learned it was terminal. I saw some photos his wife, Lisa, posted over the weekend, and I knew it wouldn't be long. The cancer had whittled him down to the most slender of reeds, and it seemed clear his life was in its end stages.

You can call that an “L” if you want. I'll never call it that, because Marc Davidson didn't lose anything to his filthy disease, and in fact turned it from an adversary to an affirmation.

If you don't know Davidson's story, here's the shorthand: A former college basketball player, he came to Blackhawk as boys basketball coach in 2014. By 2019, he'd turned the Braves into a small-school power, winning the Class A state title. Two years later, with 2021 Indiana Mr. Basketball Caleb Furst as the centerpiece, Blackhawk won the Class 2A title.

By that time, the cancer was eating away at Davidson, although you'd never have known it if you didn't know it. He kept coaching last winter, long after he knew he was terminal. By February, he was so physically depleted he sometimes had to lie down on the floor of the bus when Blackhawk went on the road.

But somehow, he always said, God gave him the strength at game time to walk out to the bench and coach his team. And when the game was over, he began asking the opposing coach if he could address coach's team.

Coach always said yes. And Davidson would tell them about his cancer, and how he was, well, dying, and how it wasn't really a battle but a way for faith to turn it into a triumph.

In other words: Appearances deceive. Especially in his case.

I met Marc Davidson almost a decade ago, when he was just starting out at Blackhawk. He kinda scared me, frankly. From basketball he'd transitioned into Strongman competitions, and now he was this 6-foot-6 behemoth with a fierce crewcut and a rumbly voice and muscles on his muscles.

But again: Appearances deceive.

Before the cancer came for him, they deceived because, for all his imposing physicality, he was the most congenial of men, quick with a smile and more than accommodating. And after the cancer, they deceived because he exuded a strength that had nothing whatever to do with muscles -- unless the muscle in question was his heart.

So, yes. Let us mourn Marc Davidson, because he was the example we always hope grownups are, but very often are not. He leaves a legacy that will live on long after him. And that legacy extends from his family to his Blackhawk family to the community to the community of high school basketball in Indiana, and perhaps beyond.

He won, in other words. He flat-out won.

Ben Smith is a former columnist for The Journal Gazette.

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