Archbishop Spalding football coach Mike Whittles, who continues his inspiring battle with stage four pancreatic cancer, will be inducted into the Cavaliers Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Whittles, who has battled cancer for almost a year, has been the Cavaliers' football coach for 13 years. This fall, he continued to coach through chemotherapy and led the Cavaliers to a playoff berth in their first season in the MIAA A Conference.
“This was such a surprise,” Whittles said. “I keep telling everybody how fortunate I am to be at Spalding. It seems like something’s always around the corner. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world, being a high school football coach and there couldn’t be a better place to be one than at Archbishop Spalding. The support I’ve gotten there from the administration, the kids, the alumni, the whole community, it’s been overwhelming and very humbling.”
Whittles returned this week from the family’s annual holiday trip to Belize. He, his wife Diane and two of their three children, Jessica and Nick, spent the holiday soaking up the sun – and sometimes the rain – in Central America, a trip that refreshed Whittles.
“When I’m there I just don’t feel like I’m sick anymore. All your troubles go away. It’s good to feel that way.”
He said his tumors grew a bit while he was off the chemo treatments, but that the cancer has not spread. Friday, he heads back to Johns Hopkins to resume the treatments.
Before the holiday, radiation treatments wore him down a bit and he still has to take it easy some days, but whenever he feels good, Whittles is likely to be at school watching a girls or boys basketball game.
“I’m just feeling pretty good,” Whittles said Thursday. “I really can’t complain. I just have to keep on going and do what the doctors tell me to do. I have lost a lot of weight. I weigh less now than I can ever remember weighing. I’m down to 204 and I graduated from high school at 220, but that’s a good thing.”
Whittles will be only the second person inducted into Spalding's Hall of Fame without waiting the required five years after leaving the school, but athletic director Lee Dove and the rest of the Spalding community didn’t want to wait to honor the man who turned around their football program.
“At one time, if you came out for our football team, you made the team,” Dove said. “You had underclassmen playing varsity against upperclassmen and it just wasn’t a good scene. When Mike came in I remember we were sitting down talking and he said, ‘I’m very interested in coming here to coach. I appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to be a coach for a year or two. I want to be here for 20 years.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll hold you to that.’ It’s a running joke with us now that he’s still got seven more years to go.”
Dove said Whittles’ ability to turn a losing program into a playoff contender and attract football players rather than boys who just liked to play football made the jump to the A Conference possible. Before they moved up, the Cavaliers won back-to-back B Conference titles.
A Hall of Famer since 2005 and the only other person inducted without waiting five years, Dove said Whittles, who is not a teacher but a businessman in the community, has given much more to the school than a winning football program, especially in the example he set for students this fall.
“Just as a man what do you say about him? You watch him walk through this building and the kids just love him. They come over and they want to hug him and he wants to hug them. It’s just an incredible feeling he has built up in the students of this school. To face what he’s faced and to do what he’s done, present a message of hope and belief in what is possible. Like he says, ‘Make every day count.’ He tells the kids that all the time. What better lesson for adolescents as they go out in the world to college, jobs or the military than to make every day count.”
Joining Whittles going into the Hall of Fame will be Stephen Kelly Sr., as a distinguished alumnus, and Kevin Kerley, as a distinguished parent. Kelly, a former board member, and Kerley, chairperson of the Cavalier Open Golf Tournament, will be honored for their many hours of volunteer service.