Community Rallies for Coach Kehoe
West Canaan — The night belonged to Ed Kehoe. And he was loving it.
The night after Thanksgiving, and the Mascoma Regional High gym was packed with a standing-room only crowd. They came to cheer for the basketball, they came to cheer for their kids, but more importantly, they came to cheer for Ed Kehoe.
It was only this past September when Kehoe was diagnosed with brain cancer. Since that time, he has been through surgery, been through six weeks of exhaustive radiation and chemotherapy and through the emotional and physical wringer of fighting an invisible, but deadly, opponent.
It’s not like basketball, where he can call a timeout and fix what’s wrong on the floor. It’s life, and doctors ... and faith.
“I’m fighting every day,” the 50-year-old Kehoe said before Friday’s Hoop It Up preseason jamboree. “It’s wonderful to see how many people are thinking about me. I’m just trying to stay positive, laugh a lot and enjoy living my life.”
Sitting on the stage in the Mascoma gym — a place where for 15 years he literally ruled New Hampshire Class M (now Division III) girls basketball, winning three state titles in the process — Kehoe wore a perpetual smile.
“I love this,” he said, motioning out over the scene. “It’s fun getting hugs and saying hello to all the people ... to see some of those kids that I coached and see that some of them have daughters.
“But the truth is, I’m just glad to be around basketball.”
There was an ebb and flow to the crowd, but not when it came to the support and love for Kehoe. There was no ebb to that flow.
No matter where folks called home — be it out of the Upper Valley like Hopkinton, or as close as Mascoma, everyone was in the gym because of Ed Kehoe. And not just because he was ailing — though that was certainly the driving force — but because of the man he was, because of the coach that he was.
Former stars such as Jen Marsh, Megan Evans and Tonya Young could be seen in the stands. Like everyone else, they just wanted to touch Ed Kehoe for the way he had touched their lives.
Marsh played on Kehoe’s first state championship team at Mascoma in 1997, when the Royals ran roughshod — literally — over the rest of the state with a 22-0 record.
“He was an amazing coach,” said Marsh, taking in the scene in the back of the stage while holding onto her own young child. “He was just the most positive coach; he made basketball fun. The best memories I have from basketball are playing for him.
“It’s fantastic to see all the people who have come out. I’m happy he gets to see how much he means to so many people. He had such a positive impact on everyone.”
The night of hoops was organized by the local referees — Gary Bean and Chris Matte — from N.H. Board IAABO 128. In all, 16 officials were on hand to referee the six games — three in each game. Whether they were college-rated officials or high school zebras, the referees took to their job with a professional demeanor and grace. They owed Kehoe that much — even as they laughed at how intimidating a presence he was during his days along the sidelines.
“It was great how everybody gave up time to be here,” said Bean, who had each official wearing the gray shirt with the grey whistles — signifying the battle against brain cancer. Along with donating their time, the officials raised $500 to be given to Kehoe at the end of the night, along with a specially detailed basketball.
For one of those officials, this evening had a special meaning. “My dad had pancreatic cancer,” longtime official Brewster Gove said. “He died this past March. I told Beanie, ‘I have to be part of this.’ I’m doing the first game and the last game.
“I think Ed gets some inspiration from what we’re doing. If it can help him, I’m all for it.”
Kehoe is doing what he can, as well. The other day, he ran a 91/2 minute mile — and was thrilled. He’s planning to join a health club to do workouts in the pool. “I’m getting myself in shape so I can fight this thing,” he said. With his brother, Tim — who took a leave of absence from coaching the Lebanon High girls — at the wheel, Ed Kehoe travels to Boston’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center every Thursday — a trip, he says, that would have cost his brother any number of technical fouls had he been yelling at the refs the way he yells at other drivers.
“I’m in a special trial group,” he said. “There are new things to try ... Hey, I gotta take a shot. What do I have to lose?”
Later in the winter, Kehoe will find out more about how the treatments have affected his cancer — and how that will affect his future. But Kehoe won’t allow himself to be bogged down in that thought process. Not while there is basketball. Though he has taken a leave from his current coaching duties with the Hartford girls team, Kehoe plans to attend all the games, especially to root on his daughter, Paige.
“I was down for a bit,” Kehoe admitted of those early days with the disease. “But I’m past that now. I’m happy to be alive, and I’m living for each day.
“This is a battle, and I’m in it to win.”
Spoken like a true basketball coach.
Don Mahler can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3225.