Fowler's season with his son. A story of family devotion.
TERRYVILLE – It’s a mild early winter’s night and you can feel the electricity pulsating through the gym. Fans are crammed in the bleachers like a week’s worth of vacation clothes into an overnight bag. A raucous student section has the walls trembling and sweating.
Despite two teams with sub-.500 records it’s fair to say that the joint is jumping. No big deal, it’s Thomaston and Terryville on the Berkshire League’s rivalry night, two schools about three and half miles apart, tied together by a clock-making history and rabid, gritty rivals by virtue of location.
It is a scene that never ages for Mark Fowler. As a former Terryville player and coach of the past 16 seasons, it has never ceased to be a highlight of the season records be damned. It’s Thomaston and Terryville that’s all it ever had or has to be. It’s been even better since Fowler hasn’t lost to his Brown and Gold Berkshire League brethren in 12 seasons.
Maybe it’s even more on this night. There is all the Thomaston-Terryville stuff but there’s a touch of catharsis in the atmosphere.
This is only the second game Fowler has been at this season. There are no practices and games taking up six days a week. There are no x’s and o’s being drawn up and long bus rides. Fowler is on a leave of absence as coach turning the reigns over to one of his former players Dave Alarcon.
Fowler didn’t need a break, his son needed his dad more than ever. Seven-year old Drew, a handsome, wide-eyed, big smiling young man has optic glioma, a tumor in the middle of the brain that is pushing on the optic nerve and has changed everyone’s life.
“Drew has limited vision in one eye and his peripheral vision is limited in the right eye,” said Fowler. “He can’t see a big E on the board in school. It’s been tough on him.”
And the road has been long. Drew was first diagnosed at the age of four and went through a year and half of chemotherapy. The tumor stopped growing and MRI’s every three month monitored his condition.
After a great summer, “It feels so great when we had the summer we did, the normal life of a 6-7-year-old boy,” said Fowler,” on Nov. 6 of last year an MRI detected that tumor was growing again.
“Part of the tumor was blocking draining in the brain and they did surgery to cut out part of it but can’t get the whole thing because of where it is located,” said Fowler.
There is long-range good news, the doctors at Dana Farber Institute in Boston have told him that this is a childhood tumor that should stop growing on its own by the time Drew is 21. And you root for that day. But there is still today and it holds a long road.
There is a trip once a month to Boston and Dana Farber Institute. There are two trips a week to the doctor’s office. There are the fears of a seven-year-old boy.
Under the circumstances, Drew is doing well. Fowler and his wife Gina have been honest with him about what is going on.
“He’s a smart kid, we don’t sugar-coat it,” said Fowler.
And Drew is handling it well. There is magic in the resiliency of youth sometimes.
“He is doing well, he is in school every day (second grade),” said Fowler. “He is not winning the battles with his vision and we have to be careful now because his immune system has been compromised but there no limitations.”
Through it all there was no doubt in Fowler’s mind where he belonged this basketball season and it wasn’t on the court calling plays for his Kangaroos.
“Right now is not the time (to be coaching). It’s is time to be with my son, at home, at his doctor’s appointments, wherever he needs his dad with him,” said Fowler. “When he had surgery he said, “Dad will you be there with me?”. Whenever he starts another round of treatments it’s, “Dad are you going to be there with me?” When he had the operation it’s always, “Is it going to hurt?’ “
There is a glisten of a father’s love and father’s pain in Fowler’s eyes on this night as he talks about a light of his life. Drew’s ordeal is Mark and Gina Fowler’s ordeal. Gina has found solace in connecting with other kids that have the same issue and both have seen a community’s concern.
“So many people care about Drew, it makes it okay to talk about it,” said Mark. “Being around the league and the school, that’s how the community has supported me.”
Mark Fowler has won championships, there are no shortages of seasons in the sun. Basketball is part of his persona since childhood. But this season is with his son and about his son.
But you couldn’t deny the smile on his face on this night. Hey, it was Thomaston-Terryville. It was high energy, buoyed by yet another Terryville win, this time in overtime. There was a touch of healing power here on this night.
Drew couldn’t make it but he was in dad’s heart and dad was in the gym. It was a good night.