Competing in a game he knew he couldn't win, against an opponent that ravaged his body for eight years, Southern Utah University women's basketball coach Steve Hodson never once thought about quitting.
In fact, if anyone happened to ask, he was winning.
"When we saw him on Sunday, he said he'd be back as soon as he was 100 percent," said SUU freshman Amanda Farish. "He was always so positive."
The life-long, much-loved and deeply-respected coach and graduate of SUU passed away peacefully at his home in Cedar City on Monday night, surrounded by one of the two things he loved more than basketball — his family.
The other thing he loved more than basketball? His players.
"He loved basketball so much," said Farish. "He was so dedicated to what he does, and he always worked so hard; but it was always second to his family ... And as much as he cared about us becoming better basketball players, he cared more about how we progressed as people. He always managed to have the right priorities. The kind of people we were, was much more important to him."
Mr. Hodson took the job at SUU in May of 2006 with the staff and student athletes fully aware of his terminal illness. At the time, he told the Deseret News that it was difficult to hear from doctors that he'd eventually lose his battle with cancer, but he never wasted time feeling sorry for himself.
"We're just competing against a disease that wants to win and eventually will," he said in 2006. "Sometimes you have to look adversity in the eye and say, 'OK, I'm going to battle it.' It'll never go away. it can't be cut out and it can't be killed. It will always come back. But why not extend life as long as you can, and along the way, why not live life as well as you can?"
So it would not be accurate to say Mr. Hodson lost his battle with cancer.
Instead, it should be understood that he won eight additional years of what he called "overtime." Those who were around him every day witnessed his ability to enjoy any and all aspects of his life.
"He was amazingly positive," said Neil Gardner, the Assistant Athletic Director of SUU. "What a vital guy. For someone who had been through what he'd been through, and what he went through every day. I'm not sure people like you and I can even understand what he went through everyday. And every day was so much enthusiasm."
In the final weeks of his life, he lost a lot of weight and his body began to betray him. His attitude, however, never did.
"He did not give in," said Gardner. "Every time I saw him, he was talking about this year and how much better they were going to be. He talked about a pre-season event we were having. He was so excited about that. He was hoping people would come out, and then as it turned out, he wasn't healthy enough to come himself."
Mr. Hodson's admirers extend around the state — from those who played for him to those who coached against him. Some of those are in the same category — like Richard Barton, athletic director at Richfield High School. He played for Mr. Hodson at Cedar High in 1986, and when Barton attended SUU, Mr. Hodson was an assistant coach for the men's program.
"Those that have had the privilege of being around coach Hod all benefitted from his lasting influence," said Barton. "He was a winner in every coaching job, but most importantly, he helped improve the life-path of those who were under his charge. He was the ultimate competitor, which no doubt played a part in a terminal condition being extended for eight years.
"Coach Hod's coaching track record is outstanding, but with him relationships were number one. His players recognized that, and that is why they were willing to give their all to a guy who was giving his all for them. My mother once told coach Hodson, 'I hope that you don't ask my son to jump off a cliff, because if you do he will do it.' He had the complete trust and respect with those he worked with and was known as the ultimate gentlemen with those that barely knew him. His enthusiasm and positive energy were unmatched. His example lasting."
Mr. Hodson recruited Farish, who played at Lone Peak High School last year. She said she knew of his illness, but like so many who knew him, thought he might just be able to pull off some kind of miracle.
"I knew he was amazing," said Farish, a Lone Peak graduate. "But I didn't know anybody could be that positive knowing the end was that close. ... We all kind of hoped a huge miracle was possible."
Mr. Hodson wore the Thunderbird uniform himself when he helped the team earn a trip to the NAIA National Tournament in 1977. He was a two-time all-district player and was voted to Southern Utah's All-1970's Team. Hodson was inducted into the SUU coaching Hall of Fame in 2005 and was the 2006 recipient of the SUU Alumni Carmen Rose Hepworth Award. In addition, he received the 2002 Utah High School Men's Basketball Coaches Association Distinguished Service Award and the 1998 Utah High School Activities Association's 3A Coach of The Year Award.
He is the only high school coach to win state boys and girls titles with three different programs and is one of three Utah coaches to win both boys and girls state basketball titles. Just two months before he was named the SUU women's basketball coach, he won a state title at Canyon View in a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
Gardner said the University plans to honor Mr. Hodson, who is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, Suzy, and his daughters Annie, Summer and Kristy. He also has five grandchildren, whom he was exceedingly proud of. Both the plans to remember Mr. Hodson at SUU and funeral arrangements are pending.