High School Sports

Bald Eagle Area continues to honor Howie Chambers’ memory with Coaches vs. Cancer games

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The reminders are everywhere for Morgan Chambers.

She remembers her late father during soccer season when she runs by the bench dedicated in his memory at the Bald Eagle Area baseball field. She wears No. 17 on the Lady Eagles soccer team like he did during his baseball playing days, and she feels close to him on the basketball court. She sometimes reads the CaringBridge blog that details his final months as he received treatment for cancer.

She thinks about him every day.

“Every game when I hear my teammates’ dads yelling for them, I think about him and how he would probably be helping me a lot,” Morgan said. “It’s hard, but I know he’s still watching.”

Morgan will be thinking about her father, Howard “Howie” Chambers, when the Bald Eagle Area girls’ basketball team hosts Bellefonte for its annual Coaches vs. Cancer game Tuesday night. The school started the fundraiser in 2010-11 in memory of Howie, a 1983 BEA graduate and former junior high basketball coach.

Howie died of cancer on May 6, 2009, at the age of 43.

Morgan was 9 years old, and her brother, Noah, was 11.

For the first year after his death, Morgan said, it didn’t seem real. She thought he’d show up again, but eventually came to the realization that he wasn’t coming back.

“I remember thinking a lot like, ‘Why my dad?’” Morgan said. “I thought that a lot, and at the funeral, at school, anywhere we’d go, and I’d see other kids with their dads, I just thought how unfair it was that it had to be my dad.”

Morgan tries to treat people like her father did to keep his memory alive.

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Stephanie Chambers said her late husband was “Mr. Volunteer.”

Howie tried to keep the community-owned Clarence cable company going. He volunteered with the Knights of Columbus. He worked to restore the Queen of Archangels Catholic Church’s rollerskating rink, which is used for parties and weddings. And he coached Little League and junior high sports.

“He just loved our community, loved the Mountaintop, loved the people,” his brother, Cliff Chambers, said. “He would have done anything for anybody on our Mountaintop or really anyone in general. But he loved where he lived, he was proud of our heritage.”

During his days coaching Little League baseball, Cliff said Howie looked to spread out the talent evenly, making sure each team had a good pitcher, middle infielder and outfielder. As a junior high boys’ basketball coach, he was demanding but caring.

He had his teams do push-ups for every point they lost by. And when he’d get upset, he’d bark out the players’ full names.

“He knew every kid’s middle name,” said BEA boys’ basketball Bill Butterworth, who credits Howie for getting him into coaching.

He knew how to connect with the kids, too.

And he made a difference in the community.

“He touched your heart,” Cliff said. “He didn’t just touch you; he touched your heart. My brother was a special man. There ain’t many of them out there like him.”

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Cliff will never forget the day Howie told him about the diagnosis.

“He looked at me and said he’s going to beat it,” Cliff said. “He said he’s got cancer and he said, ‘Don’t worry brother, I’m going to beat this.’ I told him, I said, ‘If anybody can beat it, it’s you.’”

Howie was diagnosed with cancer in December 2008. He found out after feeling a lump on his neck, but doctors didn’t know what type of cancer he had. It progressed quickly, and in March, he spent a week at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

“It was chemo for a solid week,” Stephanie said. “It was a rough week.”

Howie kept friends and family updated through his CaringBridge blog, signing his posts with “Keep the Faith!” But it was hard for his family to see his health deteriorate during visits to Mount Nittany Medical Center.

Morgan remembers he could barely walk one lap around the hospital floor as his legs were so swollen by that point.

“I didn’t really like visiting him which I regret so much now,” Morgan said. “It’s probably my biggest regret was not wanting to see him more. But I didn’t like remembering him sick. I liked remembering him playing with us in the backyard.”

Still, the family stayed hopeful.

“Even the day he died, we didn’t expect it,” Stephanie said. “The doctor was going to come in, we were going to talk about the future.”

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The little moments mean the most to Morgan now.

She cherishes the memories of her father cooking breakfast every morning — dippy eggs were one of his specialties. And she fondly recalls watching a TV show about ghost stories with him every day after school.

“Probably not the best show for a second grader,” Morgan said.

And she still likes to read his blog to see what he was going through medically and how he was dealing with it. She likes to see what she feels like she missed as a 9-year-old.

She finds herself reading it around the anniversary of his death.

“That’s probably when I feel closest to him, reading that website,” Morgan said.

One post still stands out today.

On March 12, 2009, Howie wrote that the cancer was progressing and the doctors would be doing more tests to try to determine the type of cancer. He provided more medical updates before finishing his post with a request for those reading:

I ask everyone, who has children, to go home and give you(r) kids a big hug and tell them you love them and are proud of them. Sit down with them and slow down the world around us. Life is to short.

God Bless! Keep the Faith!

“I love that passage so much because it makes you think how short life really is and how you don’t have as much time with the people you love as you think you do,” Morgan said.

“Even in his time, he’s thinking of others,” Stephanie added. “He wanted others to learn from his experience, but that’s how he was.”

Morgan has tried not to take anything for granted.

“I am terrible at staying mad at people and I think that might be why because there’s no point in staying mad at someone,” Morgan said. “... I think losing him kind of made me the person I am today.”

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Cliff Chambers fights back tears at BEA’s Coaches vs. Cancer games.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t,” he said. “It’s just an honor that they remember him. He loved that school and he loved them kids.”

Sue Butterworth, Bill’s wife, came up with the idea after receiving an email about Coaches vs. Cancer and immediately thinking of Howie. Sue has been leading the effort since the 2010-11 season, with the money donated to the American Cancer Society. BEA sells T-shirts, lanyards and bracelets, among other things, and Sue said the school is closing in raising on $2,000 this year.

The boys’ and girls’ teams both host Coaches vs. Cancer games, which recognize Howie and end each ceremony with “keep the faith.”

Morgan has watched and played in the games.

She remembers crying when she went to see Noah play in the game dedicated to her father and when she played in the game last year.

“Playing in it, it was amazing,” Morgan said. “I just felt like I was so close to him whenever they talked about him, knowing he was my dad and I got to play for him.”

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