Longtime coach Leon Doss refuses to concede; says he’ll fight cancer to the end

Posted: August 18, 2014 in General, Preps
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
20140817_141001

Leon Doss: “I don’t know how long I have to be here, but I have friends that have given me the will to keep fighting.”

By W.G. Ramirez

Considering how long I’ve been in Las Vegas, I thought I’d met everyone there was to meet from the local prep scene since the 1970s.

Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting yet another legend.

I only wish I had more time to get to know him.

Leon Doss has cancer.

And given how fast things have spread, and that it’s attacking his organs and legs like the Seattle Seahawks attacked the Denver Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, well, yeah…

Ken Henderson's Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village was the site for a fund-raiser for longtime coach and educator Leon Doss.

Ken Henderson’s Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village was the site for a fund-raiser for longtime coach and educator Leon Doss.

Yet while most everyone inside the Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village approached the fragile Clark County School District veteran with care during a five-hour fund-raiser that included a $50 ice-bucket challenge, their looks of concern and somberness quickly turned to smiles when Leon greeted them.

I know my tentativeness was eased when he looked at me, smiled and shook my hand and thanked me for being there.

His smile – though faded slightly in color, assumedly because of treatment for his cancer – was vibrant because of the width it stretched from ear to ear. Here is a man with one of the most feared infirmities known to man, and it was Leon who was making us feel secure in his presence. It was Leon asserting his jovial and loving personality that allowed us to be unbothered by his situation.

“I know it’s going to be a tough fight,” he said. “With all the love and support there’s nothing you can’t beat. I was talking to my wife, and I said ‘you know what, we’re going to fight this to the end.’

“God only has a plan for everybody, so he’s gonna lead me down the path he wants me to go, so I’m gonna fight physically and let nature take its course.”

That sounds like something he’d say; well, at least I think it does.

#DossStrong

Again, this was my first encounter with Leon, a man who reached great heights in his heyday at Western High School. Of course, while he was starring for the Warriors’ football, basketball and baseball programs, I was wreaking havoc at Robert E. Lake Elementary and Kit Carson Sixth Grade Center.

So how would I remember him snagging a state championship in football, being named both first-team all-Southern Conference and all-state for his exploits as a running back and outfielder during his junior and senior seasons, or that he was named to the Bob Lilly all-American team for football and baseball.

I wouldn’t. But several others remembered, and they all had their own stories to tell. Stories that, as they told them, lit up their faces and took them back to Western’s glory days.

#DossStrong t-shirts were sold during Sunday's fund-raiser.

Friends bought and donned #DossStrong t-shirts, sold during Sunday’s fund-raiser.

“When I think of Leon Doss, I think of somebody who was loved across the board by the masses,” said Mike Gomez, who played baseball with Leon at Western. “He was a friend to everybody. It didn’t matter what group, or what social group everybody was, everybody knew Leon. Everybody loved Leon.”

Gomez, who has been a teacher in the district for nearly 30 years, said he’s always been amazed by the lives Leon has influenced, just by his presence, and how he could change someone’s outlook with a word of encouragement.

“Even in his adult life, he’s touched so many people, whether it be coaching, whether it be playing sports, his martial arts instructing, he’s had so many avenues to touch people’s lives, and that he’s just a caring, giving person,” Gomez said.

Greg Wolfram, athletic administrator at Arbor View, remembered his time with Leon, who joined the staff as a teacher and coach when the school opened in 2005.

“Leon is just a personable guy,” Wolfram said. “He’s more than a coach; for people, he’s a friend, a mentor and he’s just there for people who have needed him. The one thing about Leon, he was very loyal to people.”

Ken Henderson, the owner of the Pizza Bar and also a former Western classmate, said there was never a second thought in his head about shutting down his restaurant for five hours so fellow Western-alum Gina Jackson and Dawn Hayden could organize the fund-raiser.

“He’s such a great energy, I was pretty surprised when I heard about it,” Henderson said. “I said whatever day works, let’s just do it. From my understanding, when Gina first did a cash drive, Leon was leveled. He couldn’t believe that people would just out of the blue, get a call, and write a check.”

#DossStrong

Jackson has remained close with the Doss’ since Leon was diagnosed last November. One of the first things she did was buy a book for his wife Faye, on how to handle her role for Leon, and for her ol’ buddy from Western, she gave him a journal. The first entry: a bucket list.

20140817_135845

Brothers Herman Newson and Leon Doss pose for a picture while enjoying Sunday’s fundraiser at the Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village.

“He wanted to have a get together with all the special people who had crossed paths with him before… you know…” she said, and struggled to finish.

Yeah, I know. I couldn’t say it either, as you could tell earlier in this blog.

“Rather than everyone getting together at his funeral, he wanted everyone to get together so he could be there, so he could see everyone and spend time with everyone,” Jackson said.

While we were chatting, one gentleman came up to thank her for everything she was doing for Leon and the Doss family. To which she replied: “We were all raised to treat other people the way we want to be treated.”

It made me smile. It’s very similar to my thought process toward this piece.

Again, I didn’t know Leon. And our paths probably would have never crossed if his daughter, Hayley, and my son would haven’t been a part of Arbor View’s Class of 2014. But there was something about wanting to do this, about spreading some awareness to anyone who may read this about a wonderful family who has endured so much, and still has a long road to travel.

Besides, whenever someone brought up Hayley, a member of Arbor View’s women’s soccer program, including the past two years the Aggies won the state title, you can’t help but think about her smile. It’s as radiating as her father’s, and can brighten a room as well as any 100-watt light bulb. Hayley is now in Washington, getting ready to start her first season for Highline Community College. In fact, the Thunderbirds open their campaign Monday with a scrimmage.

Leon won’t be there.

#DossStrong

Leon didn’t get to see Hayley step on the field for the last few minutes of the state championship game last season. Hayley overcame an injury and saw limited time during the season, but she got to play near the end of the title game, and looked as if she had never been injured. I remember tweeting about it, and even feeling a little melancholy – in a good way – that she could say she participated in her final game for Arbor View.

Sunday, as everyone was able to see Leon, talk to him and extend their well wishes, my heart tugged a bit, the same melancholy way it did back on Nov. 16 for Hayley, but this time not so much in a great way. Maybe that’s why I was tweeting play-by-play from the Pizza Bar, so she could feel as if she were alongside her father.

See, if it weren’t for Leon, his eldest daughter probably wouldn’t be the athlete she is today. It’s as close a bond as I’ve ever seen between parent and child, as the two rely upon one another. He’s her motivation; she’s his hero.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hayley Doss, now a freshman at Highline Community College, works in front of a defender during a club-soccer game last year.

“I was a hard worker, but she makes me look like I’m standing still,” Leon Doss said. “She loves to play the sport, she’s always had to fight for what she wanted. She was never the most talented, but she works hard enough to become one of the best.”

Perhaps that’s why when I interviewed Highline coach Thomas Moore he told me had no clue about Leon. Apparently, Hayley arrived on July 17 and has done exactly as she was instructed by the man who will always be her No. 1 coach and mentor. It’s been strictly business for the T-Birds, and not a peep about her ailing father.

“He made her promise that whatever happens, she continues playing strong and doing the best she can on the field and in school,” said her mother, Faye.

Prior to telling me she’s been nothing short of a blessing to the program, spreading positive vibes to everyone on the team, Moore shared with me a personal note as to why it took him an extra few minutes to return my call. My voice mail struck a personal chord with him, as he lost his mother to cancer about a year ago.

“One of the best things anyone ever said to me was ‘you’re not going to be able to predict what’s going to happen,'” Moore recollected, Saturday during a phone interview. “There is no guaranteed way to handle this. It’s going to be one day at a time. This probably is a benefit for (Hayley) because she’s doesn’t have a ton of down time and in my experience, having something to focus on, it allowed me to keep my mind off things.

“She’s performing at a very high level and we’re very demanding; she’s responded well. That’s why I’m very excited with some of the things she’ll be able to do this year. Not only is she a great player, she’s a great kid. I’ve really enjoyed having her up here so far.”

Of course, it wasn’t an easy move. Hayley admitted it was difficult to leave her father.

“It’s been pretty hard not seeing him every day,” she told me Saturday. “I can’t do anything for him, it’s just my mom and sister, and I can’t be there to support him. He’s taught me everything when it comes to sports, so it’s pretty hard on me. Now that season is here, it’s hard not seeing him here for my games. He was one of my first coaches for soccer, he’s been there from the beginning.

“He’s mostly the reason I’m pushing myself to be a good athlete.”

Leon Doss and Hayley Doss pose after her high-school graduation.

Leon Doss and Hayley Doss pose after her high-school graduation, from Arbor View HS, in June.

And that’s how Leon wanted it. He didn’t want his little star to stay home and worry about him. She earned her way to Des Moines, Washington, and he wants her there, doing what she loves.

Said Leon: “My whole goal was for her to fulfill her dream that she’s wanted for a long time. I told her whatever she does, whatever happens, you play or not, just go out there and give the best effort you can. She’s my oldest, but she’s setting the foundation for my youngest.”

#DossStrong

Both Leon and Hayley are to be commended, as they’re living up to the “hashtag” you’ve seen me use as dividers for each part to this touching story. I now know why the t-shirts they were selling said #DossStrong. After talking with Hayley on Saturday, and sitting with Leon and Faye for a bit you’d understand.

The Doss’ have been married for 20 years and have a younger daughter, Laycey, who is 13. And they’re stronger than ever. Their bond can’t be broken, and has been strengthened by an illness that is crippling, and generally weakens a soul.

But Leon was very candid about his remaining time – no matter how long it may be – now that he’s accepted the fact he’s in for the fight of his life. And he told me he refuses to accept anyone say that he is dying. On the contrary, he is living.

“This is something that you never expect in life,” Leon said. “When you have this many people care about you. This is just the greatest feeling ever. I don’t know how long I have to be here, but I have friends that have given me the will to keep fighting. And I’m going to stay strong.”

Yeah, #DossStrong.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s