Monday, August 27, 2007
Younger's Rally Almost Complete
South Bend Tribune
Friday August 24, 2007
DOWAGIAC -- Faced with a life-threatening illness, Greg Younger broke it down into the terms he knows best.
He made it into a game.
"I started looking at life like a football game," Younger said of his reaction to the news last year that he had leukemia. "You throw two interceptions in the first quarter and you felt you had a bad first half. You have to come back out, score a couple times and get back into the game.
"My church, my family and the people I work with are my teammates. I was dealt a bad hand to begin with, but we just have to find a way to win."Younger, 34 and in his fourth year as athletic director at Dowagiac High School, has a history of winning. He was the quarterback of the Chieftains' 1990 Class BB state championship team, a group that still gets plenty of respect around town.
"That was such a unique team," said Younger, who still has a small shrine to that success in the corner of his office. "We only had 28 guys on that team, but we were so close. Sixteen of those guys went on to play in college."
Younger went to Hillsdale College, where he was a starter for four years. Weeks out of college and two days before his wedding, Younger was offered the opportunity to be the quarterbacks and receivers coach at Hillsdale. He was there for seven years, the final three as offensive coordinator.
"That was strange," Younger said. "Here I was, a teammate with these guys. The next season, I was their coach."
Mike Behnke, Younger's center at Dowagiac and Hillsdale, saw the transformation first-hand. He stayed at Hillsdale for a fifth year and dealt with Younger on the new level."Our friendship was the same," Behnke said. "He was professional about the way he did things, so it was never that unusual."
Younger is Behnke's boss again today. Behnke is an assistant football coach and head softball coach at Dowagiac.
"There's always been a 'with-it-ness' about Greg," said Andy Kruger, Younger's favorite target at Dowagiac who is now the Chieftains' head baseball coach. "He's got a sports savvy, a maturity, that helps him handle things."
Younger and his wife Jeanna had a young daughter when he realized the demands of college coaching were too much. He worked for three years in an accounting firm before missing the relationships that made sports special.
Athletic director at Dowagiac struck a perfect balance."I sleep in my own bed at night and I'm guaranteed I don't work Sundays," Younger said. "I'm still involved and I'm able to get to know the coaches and athletes on a personal level."
Being the athletic director at any high school in Michigan lately has been a challenge. Court rulings last school year prompted the switch this year of several sports seasons. The most prominent was volleyball moving from winter to fall and girls basketball from fall to winter.
Younger said the switches meant he had to hire 12 new coaches -- from the varsity level down to the middle school -- because of schedule conflicts.
That's a challenge in itself.Younger's task was complicated by the fact he was battling a serious illness.
Toward the end of October, 2006, Younger dropped a significant amount of weight -- from 230 pounds to 202 over his 6-foot-1 frame. With it came fatigue and a persistent cough.
Younger said blood tests showed his white cell count was off the charts. By Nov. 1, his relationship with specialists at the University of Chicago began.
"I was shocked," said Younger, who was diagnosed with chronic mylogenic leukemia. "Immediately, your mind starts to wander. The first thing you do is get online and try to learn everything you can."Treatment, so far, has consisted of a daily pill. Younger said he's come back from those two first-quarter interceptions. A recent bone marrow test showed he has already reached two of the three levels of remission in the disease. Doctors will wait until May to test for the third level -- the game-winning touchdown.
"In my whole career, I never missed a game because of an injury," Younger said. "That's why this has been so strange for me. I've never drank (alcohol) or smoked. Still, you never know what tomorrow will bring. I've learned you have to have a positive attitude and live for every day."
That's the only way games are won.
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