The diagnosis put an otherwise dark 0-4 start to the football season in a different light.
Lymphoma, Stage 4.
News of the illness has brought Liberty Ranch High School coach Warren Schroeder to his knees in grief. A bear of a man, Schroeder is reduced to tears every time he talks about the courage and fight within the ailing individual – which helps him cope and comprehend.
Schroeder cries not for one of his players. It’s his 9-year-old son, Timmy.
“As a football coach, I have control over my team,” Schroeder said. “But this? I have no control, and that makes it hard, very hard, a helpless feeling.”
What Liberty Ranch is doing in football, it’s destiny. The town is behind the team.
John Williams, lifelong Galt resident and former Sac-Joaquin Section assistant commissioner
Schroeder has divided his time for much of the season. When he’s not holding the hand of Timmy – the oldest of three children for Schroeder and his wife, Anngela – during his chemotherapy, coaching him to keep up the good fight, he’s on the football field with his second family – the Hawks of Galt. The players are not just athletes and students, they’re his sons.
Inspired by the coach’s son, Liberty Ranch looms as the upstart team of all seven divisions competing in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Timmy’s diagnosis jolted the Hawks. No little boy should suffer like this, players and coaches said. Then amazing things started to happen.
Schroeder turned the program over to assistants Bryan Golder and Kevin Tibbetts, explaining the team needed full attention, too. The coaches installed new offensive schemes, juggled the defense a bit – anything to jump-start a winless club – and the Hawks responded. An 0-4 start has morphed into an eight-game winning streak, landing Liberty Ranch in Saturday’s Division IV championship game against Sierra of Manteca at Elk Grove High. You can expect a large Hawks crowd, united and hopeful for all things Team Timmy.
“We tell our team to do their best, play hard, and they know my son is doing his very best, fighting every single day,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder’s eyes are heavy, bloodshot. He needs a three-day nap, but he brightens at the topic of Timmy.
“He’s out of the hospital now,” Schroeder said. “His body is responding to treatments. The lymph nodes near his collarbone are gone. The mass in his chest has shrunk a lot. But he’ll be doing chemo for what could be years, and he’s suffering the effects of chemo.”
Schroeder said he is touched by the outpouring of support in Galt, a tightknit community that embraces its youth and sports teams. Galt is home for Schroeder. He grew up there, played football at Galt High, Sacramento City College and UC Davis. And he came full circle to a place he wanted to raise his family. Schroeder (U.S. history) and Anngela (English) teach at Liberty Ranch.
Anngela couldn’t contain her glee Friday night as she raced down the sideline during a touchdown in the Hawks’ 44-42 semifinal win over Los Banos. The team took the field with a flag that included Timmy’s youth jersey, No. 54.
“We’ve dedicated this season to my son, and he knows that,” Schroeder said. “He watches video of our games. He can’t wait for me to come home to talk football. Football has taken a back step, but it’s still so important for Timmy. He loves this sport. We don’t need football, when you put things in perspective, but we really do need football. We need each other.”
We tell our team to do their best, play hard, and they know my son is doing his very best, fighting every single day.
Liberty Ranch football coach Warren Schroeder
Liberty Ranch has become all too familiar with heartache and tragedy. A year ago, senior Ryan Stover, a member of the basketball team, died of heart failure on the eve of the season. The Hawks draped his No. 25 jersey over a seat on the bench throughout the season, – a reminder and an inspiration – as they reached the Northern California regional playoffs.
Two days before the start of the 2011-12 academic year, student body president Taylor Steele lost a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. The school’s first graduating class walked across the stage in her memory. A chair on campus bears her name. Steele created the Strong as Steele Cancer Foundation.
“You can still see cars in Galt that have that,” said John Williams, a lifelong Galt resident who worked for years at the Galt Herald newspaper and last spring retired as the section’s assistant commissioner.
Williams’ son, Josh, is the Hawks’ basketball coach. He kept his team together after Stover’s death.
“Hard to go through all of this over the years,” John Williams said. “What Liberty Ranch is doing in football, it’s destiny. The town is behind the team.”