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South Mecklenburg baseball coach Jon Tuscan, 29, battles cancer

Langston Wertz Jr.
Langston Wertz Jr. writes about videogames, gadgets, golf and sports for The Charlotte Observer and Charlotte.com.

A week after his 29th birthday and just a few months before his second wedding anniversary, South Mecklenburg baseball coach Jon Tuscan learned he had testicular cancer.

Tuscan’s cancer is considered a highly treatable form of the disease, which disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong survived. It affects one man in 270, according to the American Cancer Society.

Only, Tuscan, whose team played North Davidson in a second round N.C. 4A playoff game Tuesday, never thought he would be the “one.”

Tuscan was diagnosed with cancer Wednesday, March 27.

Back then, he felt good. Just five days before, Tuscan and his team presented a check for more than $4,600 to the YMCA Miracle League at the University City YMCA to assist special-needs children. The money was raised through a South Meck fundraiser.

A day before Tuscan’s routine physical, his Sabres beat Butler 17-0 for their fifth straight win, cementing a spot atop the Southwestern 4A conference standings.

Then he visited his doctor and, before the day was over, received life-changing news.

His primary physician spotted something on a scan and sent Tuscan to a urologist, who then recommended he see another specialist. By day’s end, Tuscan had been examined by five doctors.

“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I don’t know why I wasn’t. It was weird. We had practice that night and I wanted to be back.”

At the final doctor’s visit, the specialists were sure it was cancer. They set Tuscan up for surgery the next day, which would be followed by nine weeks of chemotherapy.

Tuscan informed his players of the impending surgery via a group phone text. The next day, following their coach’s operation, the Sabres beat rival East Mecklenburg 5-4.

South Mecklenburg then won 13 of its next 16 games and tied for the regular-season conference title with Ardrey Kell. The Sabres beat Providence 8-2 in the conference tournament championship game. Senior Austin Wynn was tournament MVP. He threw a no-hitter against Rocky River in the first round and pitched three innings of one-hit relief against Providence.

It was the Sabres’ first conference tournament title in seven years, and Tuscan was back in the dugout.

“This means the world,” Wynn said that night. “We all did it for coach this year. ... We’re the first class to come all four years with him, first class to do it, so it feels great to do it for coach.”

Since the surgery and the start of the grueling chemo, the Charlotte baseball community has also reached out to the young coach. As a tribute, South Meck assistant coach Joe Colandro has painstakingly carved Tuscan’s No. 20 into the school’s outfield grass with his mower. There has been a raffle to raise funds, and the school has started a charity, called JT20. On April 22, South Meck’s girls’ soccer players wore Tuscan’s number on their uniforms against conference rival Myers Park.

“He is a great man, teacher, coach and friend,” Sabres soccer coach Eric White said. “He means a lot to our school and athletic program and we as a team. He has a difficult fight in front of him, and we as a school and program support him.”

Rival schools have also shown support.

“It was a shock when we heard about it,” said Ardrey Kell baseball coach Hal Bagwell. “Then it was, ‘What can we do?’ We jumped right in with everybody else supporting the raffle. We sent him a big team card telling him to keep battling. When it comes to something like this, it’s not a baseball thing. It’s a life thing.

“If I had to put my money on anybody to beat it, he’s the guy that can.”

Tuscan said he’s overwhelmed by the support and acts of kindness.

“It’s been crazy how much the players and their families have supported us,” he said, “and the folks from all the other schools. My wife (Sarah) has been great. It makes it 100 times easier. By the end of the first week of chemo, when I was feeling horrible and couldn’t get out of bed, it helped to think that all these people have got your back and are doing what they can to help you.”

How to help: South Meck has started a charity, JT20, to raise money for coach Jon Tuscan, who is battling testicular cancer. To donate, contact Sabres athletic director Kevin Hinson at kevin.hinson@cms.k12.nc.us or 980-343-3600.

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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