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Friends School athlete dies of cancer at age 18

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If Hiram Holton II had scripted the last day of his life, the teen-ager would have died after walking off the Friends School basketball floor for the last time.

"We saw him crawl out onto the court [this year] -- and he did that until he became an embarrassment to himself because he wasn't reaching his own personal standards," said Randy Cooper, who coached him. "He then took himself out of the game. It was heartbreaking. I think if he could have made a deal with God, he would have died after his last basketball game."

Instead, this happy, brave young man -- a scholar-athlete senior whose presence never went unnoticed -- lost his two-year fight with cancer at the Johns Hopkins Hospital on Monday. He had just turned 18.

Hiram Holton Sr. recalled yesterday his son's courage in the face of Rhabdomyosarcoma, a primitive muscle tumor that had spread to his spinal cord. His namesake, Mr. Holton said, possessed a stubborn courage rare in most adults he knew, including himself.

"When the doctor told him he had cancer, he leaned over and put his head on my shoulder and asked: 'Dad, am I going to die?' I think in the back of his mind he knew that it was bad, but he was determined to bravely fight on."

Early this year, Hiram began losing feeling in his legs and told his father: "Dad, I don't want to live if I can't walk."

"He was a brave soul," said the elder Mr. Holton, his voice trembling. "Could I as an adult be as brave as this? I was so very proud of him."

So were his teachers and classmates at the Quaker school on North Charles Street, where news of Hiram's death came at a morning assembly yesterday.

At the assembly, students and faculty, some of them weeping, sang the spirituals, "Going Over Jordan" and "Blessed Lord Lead Me Home." Friends headmaster W. Byron Forbush spoke of the youngster who had won so many hearts in such a short time.

'Strong of heart'

"It's very difficult to lose someone as young as this -- there are no answers," Dr. Forbush said. "Here was a kid who was five-ten and played quarterback on the football team. Here was a kid who was a point guard on the basketball team who barely came up to the shoulders of the tallest player. He may have been short of stature, but he was certainly strong of heart."

"He was a fighter all the way," the headmaster said. "I thought to myself, here's a kid with a life-threatening disease and he has a B average. He can do nothing but win."

After the headmaster's remarks, students and teachers walked up a snow-covered hill to the Quaker meetinghouse for a worship service.

During the service, Atman Smith, a point guard on the basketball team, said: "He knew that we were hurting, but he lifted our spirits and ignored his pain."

Mr. Cooper had coached Hiram at Friends since the seventh grade, when the boy transferred from Park School.

"He had an intensity that affected all those who played with him," said Mr. Cooper. "There was always a glow about him."

Hiram, whose family lives in the Milford Mill area of Baltimore County, had planned to attend the University of North Carolina and hoped to graduate into the National Basketball Association. Upon learning of his illness, the entire North Carolina basketball team autographed a ball for him at the end of 1994.

As a youngster, Hiram played for the Deer Park Recreational Council and the Deer Park Boys Basketball League and Parents Association. He also played Pop Warner football in Woodlawn and pitched for the Forest Park Little League.

Made others better

"He was the type of player who always made those around him better," said Will Sieck, a teammate since the sixth grade. "He'd always hit the shot when you needed it most and brought out the best in you."

Cory Brown, a senior wide receiver on the Friends football team, had a similar tale.

Hiram "got me to come out for football," he said. "He really pushed me in practice, so much so that he became my inner flame. He was also a party man, a snappy dresser. You always noticed when Hiram was around."

Funeral services will be held Saturday at a time to be announced at the Bible Way Free Will Baptist Church, 4412 Maine Ave.

Other survivors include his mother, Yvonne; two stepsisters, Helen Holton of Baltimore and Melva Grant of Columbus, Ohio; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

Memorial donations may be made to Friends School, 5114 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21210; or to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 43025, Baltimore 21236-0025.

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