When Gary Coleman Jr. learned that his uncle, Marvin Matthews, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Aug. 17, Coleman thought he would have to keep up the former Dunbar and Morgan State wrestler's spirits.
He quickly found out that wasn't going to be the case.
"When I saw him, he said, 'I'm not going to let it beat me,'" Coleman recalled Monday of Matthews, who was a Maryland Scholastic Association champion at 105 pounds in 1972 and 112 pounds in 1973. "He was a fighter. He did not go without a fight."
Matthews died Sept. 12 after the cancer spread quickly and aggressively. He was 59.
Beyond his wrestling success, Matthews was renowned in Baltimore City as a basketball coach for several youth recreation centers and leagues and at St. Frances Academy. Despite giving up playing basketball when he attended Dunbar, he coached players including Mark Karcher (Temple, Philadelphia 76ers), Donta Bright (Massachusetts, New Jersey Nets) and Michael Lloyd (Syracuse), among several others.
"He's felt throughout the city," said Rodney Floyd, who grew up with Matthews in East Baltimore and attended St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church with him. "Marvin was always a fixture at St. Frances games and Madison Square Recreation Center. Everybody knew Coach Marvin. He was always very approachable, and the kids knew him."
Floyd said one of his fondest memories was when Matthews was asked to coach two teams at the Chick Webb Recreation Center that were playing on the same days. Matthews gave one team to Floyd, who guided his squad to the playoffs. Matthews had a chance to take over that team when it reached the playoffs, but declined, leaving Floyd in charge.
"I was nervous about coaching in the playoffs," Floyd said. "But he gave me the confidence to go out there and coach. We didn't win the championship, but I will always remember how he told me to go out with confidence and coach that team. … I respected him and loved that he gave me that opportunity."
Matthews' greatest athletic accomplishments occurred on the wrestling mat. Former Morgan State coach James Phillips said Matthews was a two-time Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion, and he joined former Dunbar standouts and brothers Anthony and Herbert Johnson as the university's first All-American wrestlers.
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Three years ago, Matthews returned to coaching wrestling at Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, an all-male charter school in East Baltimore. Coleman said with the move, his uncle had found his nirvana.
"Wrestling was his passion," Coleman said. "That's where he excelled. That's where he was happiest."
A wake will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 1501 E. Oliver Street. A funeral will follow at 10:30 a.m.
Survivors include his wife Angela; his children Marvin Jr. and Adia; his mother Julia Matthews; his brothers John Matthews-Bey, Damon Matthews-Bey and Theodore Dew; and his sisters Patricia Williams, Wanda Williams, Theresa Butler and Cecilia Cozart. All live in Baltimore except for Dew, who lives in San Diego.