After Cancer, Texas State’s Harrington Looks to Continue Winning Ways
By Stefanie Steiner
Jared Huber had just hit a two-run single last April to extend Texas State’s lead in an eventual 4-1 win over Baylor when Bobcats Coach Ty Harrington congratulated him between innings.
Huber remembers what Harrington said. “That’s how you do when things are going good,” Harrington told the sophomore catcher from Spring.
Things weren’t going good for Harrington at that point.
Seven months earlier, Harrington, 51, had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Despite being on medical leave, Harrington, a Waco native, had made it a priority to be in the dugout when Texas State University swept Baylor University that weekend. He made it to every game he could.
Harrington announced in August that the tumor had gone into remission and he would return to coaching. Though hopeful, Harrington doesn’t like to say he is “cancer-free” because he believes nothing is certain.
“Anything can happen,” Harrington said, “but I am not going to let that stop me from being with my team.”
For the next five years, Harrington will undergo regular scans and blood work, plus a colonoscopy at the beginning of 2016 to make sure nothing has grown in the original tumor bed. Before the cancer was diagnosed, Harrington says, he knew nothing about rectal cancer.
During a regular checkup in fall 2014, Harrington told his doctor about stomach problems. It could have been stress, he thought, or a virus. But it wasn’t. A biopsy revealed a cancerous tumor the size of a quarter. At age 50, Harrington was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer.
A combination of radiation and chemotherapy meant there were days when he couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed. Five rounds of torturous, 48-hour chemotherapy left him with nausea and stomach pains. His hair began to fall out. He lost 30 pounds.
The balance between coaching a Division I baseball team and cancer treatment was difficult for Harrington to maintain, and he went on leave in February.
“It became a burden for a lot of people,” Harrington said. His wife had just started a new career, and his daughter was in her freshman year at Texas State.
“The support was unfathomable,” Harrington said. “They would stick their hand out to help at all times.”
The support did not end there. Meal packages and prayers poured in from members of First Baptist Church, where Harrington worships in San Marcos. The baseball community responded. Harrington received text messages, phone calls and letters from coaches, players and others in San Marcos and nationwide.
“He’s like a father figure to all of the players on the team,” Huber said. “So when we found out his situation, we had a purpose to play: to play for him.”
Harrington, the winningest coach in Texas State baseball history, sports a 531-410-1 all-time record at the university. The former two-time Texas Longhorn letterman began his coaching career with the Bobcats in 2000 and has had 39 players selected in the Major League Baseball draft, including three-time all star Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Admiring his father’s work as a high school and college football coach, Harrington graduated from the University of Texas in 1987 with a job as a student coach for the Longhorns baseball team. Before taking command of the Texas State baseball program, Harrington served as the head coach at Northeast Texas Community College in 1995 and Blinn College in 1999.
“Even though he bleeds orange, he has mixed a lot of maroon and gold into the bloodstream over the years, and he loves the Bobcats as well,” Texas State Athletic Director Larry Teis said.
Harrington is preparing for his 17th season with the Bobcats and hopes to use his experience with cancer to be a better coach and teacher. Jeremy Fikac, an assistant coach, was interim coach during Harrington’s absence.
“My will to win is as good and strong as it has ever been,” Harrington said. “If you get to the other side, there is always wisdom, experience and priority. Your life changes when you go through an experience like this, but it doesn’t change your will to succeed.
“My wisdom has changed because I had a chance to be on the edge of the game and an opportunity to see things with a little more clarity and perspective,” Harrington said. “I think I am a better coach and person because I now have a better perspective of who I am and how things should be done.”
The catcher, Huber, is eager to see his coach return to the dugout but hasn’t lost sight of the bigger picture.
“Our goal here is the win a conference championship and make a run in the post season,” Huber said. “With coach Harrington back, we are on the path to the winning.”