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Amy Donaldson: Grantsville softball coach Heidi Taylor teaches more than technique

GARLAND — Calvin Bingham took the bag a former player handed him at a wrestling tournament a few months ago and walked to his car.

It was a dark night in the heart of winter, but what he saw moved him to do what he rarely does — call a reporter. The Bear River head softball coach isn’t one to seek publicity, especially not when it involves talking about himself.

But the contents of that bag touched him so deeply, so sincerely, he wanted the world to know that sometimes coaches do more than teach technique.

Sometimes when children show up at a softball field with dreams of winning state championships and statewide awards, they also learn how to be better human beings.

That is, if they have the right coach.

Grantsville coach Heidi Taylor, Bingham points out, is one of those coaches.

Bingham was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Oct. 22, 2012.

“The cancer was aggressive and extensive,” he said. “I ended up going to the University of Colorado the first part of December for surgery.”

He was home recovering when he decided to go to Bear River High to watch a wrestling tournament. A former player, Kelsie Hodge, who was an assistant for Taylor at Grantsville High last season, approached him with the bag.

He waited until he was alone in his car to open it.

Inside he found 50 cancer awareness bracelets and a letter signed by Taylor and all of her players. The letter wished him well, and the bracelets were a small show of support for a man dealing with a painful and terrifying disease.

“I don’t want this to be anything about me,” he told the reporter. “This, to me, is what high school sports is about. It says something about the teacher and the coach that she is. What she’s teaching those girls goes far beyond softball. It’s showing them about life and that, when we go on the field, we compete to the best of our abilities. But afterward, you realize, we’re all human beings and we have the same desires and fears. To me, she’s something special. She went the extra mile, certainly.”

Taylor and Bingham have developed a rivalry that has become one of the most enjoyable in the state. When you have two great coaches who know and love the game, their teams look forward to facing each other in region each season. It's a game made more meaningful because the coaches genuinely respect each other's abilities.

“We’ve really enjoyed playing Bear River,” said Taylor. “They’re a good group of girls.” And while many of the girls know each other from softball, there is a mutual respect between the coaches that also exists among the fans.

“Calvin is just a stand-up guy,” she said. “It’s a very similar community to our own. There isn’t any bickering. I just really enjoy the atmosphere, and we’ve really enjoyed the friendship with those girls.”

Taylor said the idea came from the seniors on her team.

“They’d done it a few years ago when they lost a coach to cancer,” she said. “They thought it would be a nice gesture. They pooled their money and bought the wristbands.”

They kept some to wear as a show of support for both Bingham and his players. They know how much players look up to, rely on and love their high school coaches.

And they know how difficult it is when someone as important as a coach gets sick or has struggles, especially in a small community.

Whether they wear Cowboys on their uniforms or Bears, those players know what it means to have someone willing to give up free time to teach them to hit better, pitch harder or succeed in school.

They know the life-altering impact of a coach who cares.

So they wore the wristbands to show their support, and Bingham felt their love.

He’s doing well since the surgery, he said.

“I had a lot of cancer, but it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes,” he said. And anyone who knows anything about cancer knows what a blessing that is.

“That was really good news,” he said, in his matter-of-fact way. “I still have to go in for tests now and then, but I feel good.”

A few weeks ago Bingham and Taylor met on the softball field for the first of their regular-season meetings. Both teams played well, with the Bears edging the Cowboys 4-3. The Bears are tied for the region’s top spot with two games to play, while Grantsville is in third place.

And while one could learn a lot from watching these two talented softball teams battle each other on the field, one could learn even more watching how they treat each other off it.

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