For a high school football team, Friday is the most important day of the week. Players and coaches spend all week studying, training and preparing for their next matchup under the Friday night lights.
But on Oct. 20, gameday started a little differently for the Jackson County Panthers. That morning, a group of 13 players gathered to surprise their defensive line coach, Chris Fowler, at his final chemotherapy treatment.
“It was really heartwarming,” said senior Peyton Scott. “As soon as they opened up the door, he kind of paused and turned around and kind of, like, composed himself. And I knew he was crying.”
Fowler was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in May, and over the next six months, he underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy treatments every other Friday.
Nearly a month after his final treatment, Fowler is officially cancer-free.
According to Fowler’s wife, Dani, he always asked his doctors how his scans, surgeries or chemotherapy would affect his ability to coach. Despite the physical drain of the illness and treatments, he never missed a practice or game, a testament to his love for coaching.
“I didn’t want anything about what I was going through to take away from this year’s football team and those senior kids,” Fowler said. “But the fact that they wanted to, you know, support me and help me through and surprise me at that last treatment, it makes you feel special and it makes you feel loved.”
Football has always been a big part of Fowler’s life. Back in the ninth grade, his mother died from breast cancer. He said football helped him to get through those tough times and to focus on something else.
Now, nearly 20 years later, football has helped him through his own battle.
“If I wasn’t able to coach right now, then I can only imagine that I’d be sitting at home and stewing in my own thoughts,” Fowler said. “It provided me an outlet that I didn’t have to think about going through chemo treatments or battling cancer. But it gave me strength to get through to be honest with you.”
Football may have been a distraction from his negative thoughts, but head coach Korey Mobbs believes his selfless attitude toward coaching also played a large role in Fowler’s fight with cancer.
“When you spend your life and your career worried about others and coaching others, when you have that mindset, sometimes that helps you get through dealing with some personal things,” Mobbs said.
Fowler’s selfless attitude and care for his players made it easy for the community to give back to him, showing support by setting up a meal train for his family or wearing “Fight with Fowl” bracelets.
But to the Fowler family, the support from the team and the community was a welcome surprise in such a tough time.
“Seeing how much our community cares is a really special thing,” said Dani Fowler. “When you kind of weren’t sure that you were deserving of it or whatever that might be, I mean, honestly it was in a weird way the biggest blessing for us.”
Now that he is finished with treatments, Fowler says that his cancer battle taught him the importance of prioritizing both his physical and mental health. He is committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the future.
“It just kind of makes you take a big step back and realize that, you know, maybe some things I was doing, I can’t and shouldn’t do any more,” Fowler said. “I know they say that phrase: ‘health is wealth,’ and I didn’t really understand that until my health was in major jeopardy.”
Among other changes, Fowler is prioritizing exercise and nutrition, things he says he preaches to his players all the time. Post-treatment, Fowler is trying to be a living example, not only for his players, but for other people going through hard times.“I want to live out what I teach,” Fowler said. “Finish the drill, and finish the rep, and make sure you don’t give up, don’t quit, all those things that we teach the kids all the time, here’s my opportunity to put that into practice in real life.”
Why I wrote this story:
I wrote this story as an assignment for my Multiplatform Storytelling for Sports class at the Carmical Sports Media Institute. The assignment was a 650 word written story about something related to my beat, Jackson County High School sports.
I chose to write a profile about Coach Fowler because his story was not only inspirational, but his connection to his players and his community was especially interesting, and it was clear to me that his story needed to be told.