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Cougars bond as coaching staff copes with health issues

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By Dennis Pleuss
Jeffco Public Schools
DENVER — Evergreen assistant baseball coach Dale Hutchings perfectly described the Cougars being in the class 4A state championship game Sunday.
“It’s just a blessing to be here. It’s a blessing to be on this field,” the longtime assistant coach said after Evergreen lost 7-3 to Valor Christian in the title game at Regency Sports Complex at Metro State University. “I tell people it’s a blessing to be on the right side of the grass.”
Hutchings, who has been with Evergreen’s baseball program for 17 years, was diagnosed with throat cancer last May. He went through chemotherapy and radiation from July through September in 2016. He was completely house-bound until the end of October.
While going through his own battle, Evergreen players made a point to visit Hutchings at his house in Aurora.
“My doorbell rang at about 5 p.m. one night and it was nine of our baseball players to see me and just say hi,” Hutchings said. “It makes you feel very special.”
Junior Jack Patterson, who hit a pair of three-run home runs during the Cougars’ 12-9 loss to Thompson Valley on Friday, was one of the players who visited Hutchings.
“Coach Hutch is a fighter and inspires all of us,” Patterson said. “When we visited him he was as strong as ever. It was like nothing had changed with him. That really inspired our team to never give up and always keep fighting.”
While Hutchings sees three different specialists on a regular basis, he received good news about his cancer a month ago. A CAT scan showed he is cancer free. It will be another year to three years of close monitoring for Hutchings to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
“We missed him (Hutchings) terribly when he was out,” Evergreen head coach Steve Jones said of Hutchings whom he has coached with for 15 years. “It’s not Evergreen baseball if we don’t have Coach Hutch with us.”
Unfortunately, Jones has also battled health issues this spring. He missed some time with the team because of a heart condition. Jones was scheduled to have a heart angioplasty procedure Wednesday, in Dallas. His doctor in Dallas believes there is a partial blockage in one artery.
“It’s been hard because obviously they (Hutchings and Jones) are very close to us. It gave us motivation,” Evergreen senior Lucas Berninzoni said. “Something else to keep us moving and keep us fighting. It gave us a reason to fight. We really owed it to them.”
After Sunday’s loss to Valor, Jones brought his team together to give them more information about the procedure he was to have this week.
“The kids have shown me unconditional love,” Jones said. “I’ll never, ever forget that. To me it’s life changing. It just shows what a special group of kids they are. I’m grateful to have that kind of support.”
While the season is over, the Cougars know there are always battles off and on the field to face.
“Like I told the kids. We don’t run from a challenge. We run to the roar of the lion. I’m going to face this with faith,” Jones said of his health issues. “Along with the strength and love of my family and players.”