The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 02, 2021 1:00 am

Illness puts trip to state basketball finals in perspective

Coach keeps faith as he fights cancer

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

As he's been doing since his 13th birthday, Marc Davidson nailed a slam dunk on March 1 for his 48th birthday. His original goal was to re-create the triumph for 30 years, so he's jumped well past that.

“It will be a game-time decision from here on out,” the Blackhawk Christian boys basketball coach said two weeks ago. “This was the year I wasn't sure it would happen.”

Davidson had surgery Oct. 27 for a rare form of cancer, renal epithelioid angiomyolipoma, removing a kidney and 13 lymph nodes. He dropped over 50 pounds to 247 but has rebuilt to a solid 270.

The dunk is a little moment in what has become an experience of big ones. If ever there was a time to consider backing down and pulling inward to deal with the repercussions of his health, Davidson has boldly attacked them.

As an example, he's been totally open with his players. There are no rumors; he fills them in before that. This season's Senior Night came two days after Davidson visited the University of Chicago and found the cancer had shifted to his lungs. An already emotional night tripled intensity.

“That night was raw, really raw,” Davidson said. “We had a really sweet prayer time after the game, players prayed over me, parents did, colleagues did. It was really powerful.”

And afterward, as he usually does early every morning, Davidson walked to the school parking lot after completing his stats and laundry at about 1 a.m. to set up the cones for the next morning's parent drop-off.

“I'm walking around out there crying out to God. I'm saying, the thought that came to my head was, 'There's more for me to do. There's more.' I know he can heal me from this if he chooses, but I was pleading with him. 'God in your mercy, I want to be around, please.'”

And actually, that's as close as Davidson has come to letting his circumstances overwhelm him. He knows God can heal him, but he's also still praying. Davidson accepts and understands this is an opportunity not about him, not to deal with his own adversity, but to help others with theirs.

He has always been quick to share his testimony, but with the Braves playing for the Class 2A state title against Parke Heritage on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he understands there's a larger audience than ever paying attention. Davidson could fight his fate, rant and rave and use every bit of his competitive desire but feels that would be wasted energy.

His favorite Bible verse is from Colossians, “All things heartily unto the Lord.”

“I've used that verse so many times on myself, on my kids, on kids that I've coached ... ,” he says, totally relaxed leaning back into his office chair. “Everybody has heard me use that verse, usually with the little things, the simple, the mundane, the routine, that there's a purpose in everything and doing them well. I've been using that verse lately to relate to big things like dying. That's a big thing. I've never thought of Colossians 3:23 as it relates to dying until about three weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it a lot since.”

“He's an open book about it,” Blackhawk Christian athletic director Joel Cotton says. “It's inspiring. He's providing our players an example to follow, and that's all we would ask from our coaches. When a life situation hits you, how are you going to react, how are you going to respond and live that out in front of our players? It's effortless for him because he's like that all the time. To see him going through something so hard, and to see it making him more bold, is pretty inspiring.”

And Davidson has inspired others on the Braves' return trip to state. Bluffton and Blackford both prayed with Davidson and his team after tournament games. He's done more media interviews that end up talking not about what he's facing, but how he's living.

He's still training to compete in Motor City's Strongest Man competition April 17 in Detroit. Davidson won the Masters Heavyweight Division title at the Strongman National Championships in Las Vegas in September 2019, and he still trains most mornings in Blackhawk Christian's weight room, praise and worship music blaring but loud enough only to enhance his prayers.

“I think it was C.S. Lewis who said, 'He speaks to us in our comforts but screams at us in our pain,' ” Davidson said. “I've always known God is with me, but right now it's so much more palpable, and you can feel he's with me. All of the truths that I've known for many, many years, it's like they are all in bold print with exclamation points and highlighted and underlined.

“I think about joy which I've always talked to my family a lot about. I've always been told that joy is not dependent upon your circumstances, and I've always believed that in my brain. But right now I feel it in here,” he said, slapping his chest. “I'm overflowing with joy in the midst of this. I'm more aware of this joy than I've ever been going through this. From the time of Jesus, faith causes people to scratch their heads and say, 'what is this? What kind of joy is this?' When you are going through something that is tough, you experience joy in a new way.”

Some might say basketball could be a release during this challenge, but that would be admitting failure to Davidson, a loss of focus. He's here every day all day, concentrating on the now and not what might be. He's not letting his team or anyone else do it, either. He's present, living, not dying.

Davidson's son Marcus recently said during an interview he views his father as a Supermanlike figure.

“That is every young kid in our school, to be honest,” Cotton said. “To see how he interacts with his team, to see the program culture he has developed, to be in a couple of locker rooms and just watch him, how he talks to his players and how he leads has been inspirational. It's fun to witness. That gives you peace.”

Without a hint of ambiguity, Davidson knows he's doing exactly what God is asking of him, and there's power and passion and joy in that mission.

“We talk a lot about the promises of Scripture, the promise of peace that surpasses all understanding, the promise of joy even in hard times, the promise of eternal life in Christ,” he said. “We also have the promise of trials. Jesus said, 'You will have tribulations.' It's not if, but when. He also said, 'Take heart because I have overcome the world.' A lot of times we don't talk about that promise of suffering, but it's reality.”

Class 2A State Finals

Blackhawk Christian (27-3) vs. Parke Heritage (27-3)

When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Admission: $15, limited tickets available to public


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