By Ken Lipshez
PLAINVILLE, Conn. – Sophomore forward Luke Santhouse began the basketball season with a real shot to make an impact on Plainville High boys’ basketball rebuilding program.
He worked hard in tryouts to catch the eye of new Blue Devils coach Marc Wesoly. At 6-foot-3, the coach saw great potential in him.
Santhouse logged some varsity time, along with his junior varsity assignments through the early portion of the schedule, only to discover something was very wrong.
Santhouse has been diagnosed with leukemia and is spending most of his time in a hospital room as he undergoes chemotherapy. A bone marrow transplant probably will follow.
A devastated Plainville community will be holding a benefit for Santhouse to help defray massive medical costs for a family that has always done its part for athletics in town.
Next Tuesday night (7 p.m.) will be Layups for Luke Night at the Ivan Wood Gymnasium, when the Blue Devils entertain Rocky Hill in a Northwest Conference game. All proceeds from gate receipts and concessions are earmarked for the Santhouse family.
Wesoly, 24, said he has never before encountered a friend or loved one faced with a life-threatening disease.
“There’s not much we can do but every little bit helps,” Wesoly said. “I went to (Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford) and saw him. I feel for the kid. When somebody goes through something like this you want to give them as much support as you can.”
Wesoly’s heart is full of optimism. He’s confident Santhouse can make a full recovery.
“He’s 6-3 and we’re expecting big things from him,” Wesoly said. “He has soft hands and he’s a hard worker. We figured he just needed to get in shape.”
Wesoly said the coaching staff pushed Santhouse during tryouts and he became light-headed. The Blue Devils visited Canton on Dec. 23, when he became dizzy during the junior varsity game. The Santhouses took him to the hospital and their holiday instantly went from festive to grim.
“They got the blood work back the day after Christmas,” Wesoly said. “They knew he had leukemia. It was just horrible timing.”
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells that begins in the bone marrow. While a healthy person’s bone marrow produces red cells, white cells and platelets that help blood to clot, a person stricken with leukemia experiences the production of abnormal white cells that grow out of control and overwhelm the other cells.
“He went through the first stage of chemo and came home for a few days,” Wesoly said. “He’s going through round two now.”
Wesoly said the walls of Santhouse’s hospital room are covered with sports photos. He’s had visits from some of the college football All-Americans who attended the Walter Camp Weekend in New Haven Jan. 15-17.
Wesoly brings him DVDs of the Blue Devils’ games, which Santhouse listens to intently on PHS’ in-house Internet broadcasts.
Wesoly said Santhouse has some good days and some bad.
“One time we went up and he was having a bad day,” he said. “Then he had a couple of good days. He had a basketball in his hands and he was playing X-Box.
Wesoly cites the close-knit nature of his town as a major building block in Santhouse’s recovery. Plainville Little League, an organization that has benefitted from the family’s participation, donated a laptop, which Santhouse uses to tune into the games.
“A bunch of his buddies go up every week and play X-Box. Those are the types of things he needs,” Wesoly said.
The experience has helped the young Plainville coach mature quickly, enabling him to take a more profound look at the virtues of high school sports.
“On Dec. 1, he was running suicides and 30 days later, he’s in a hospital bed with leukemia,” Wesoly said. “I told the team, ‘You’re playing high school basketball. It’s a privilege. It’s a gift. With the snap of the fingers, it could change.’ You’re teaching these kids more than sports; you’re teaching them life’s lessons. Sports aren’t just about playing. There are lessons to be learned.”
Wesoly saw a spark in Santhouse as the coaches pushed him in tryouts. He’s confident that same spark will drive Santhouse along the pitted path to good health that lies ahead.
“He has the perseverance and push. He’s the type of kid that will fight this to the end and he’s gong to beat it,” Wesoly said. “He has that never-give-up, never-say-die attitude.”
Ken Lipshez, a sportswriter for the New Britain (Conn.) Herald, covers central Connecticut for MaxPreps. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.