Like a lot of assistant coaches, Chandler Seton Catholic (Ariz.) High girls basketball assistant Tiffany Tate flies under the radar. The assistant is rarely noticed by those not wearing a Seton Catholic jersey, which is precisely the way she wants it.
Yet beneath Tate's serene outward veneer, the coach struggles with a serious health problem: cystic fibrosis. At the 2010 Class 4A Division II state championship game, Tate was forced to coach at 5,100 feet, an experience which scared her players, who were forced to watch their coach breath with the aid of an oxygen mask less than halfway through the game.
"It was shocking," Seton Catholic forward Theresa Wirth told the Arizona Republic. "We didn't even know how big a problem it was. She downplays it all the time. She wants it to be about us and the team."
According to the Republic, Tate is now facing an even more significant struggle, with her badly needed double-lung transplant no longer covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which stopped paying for lung transplants in October as a way to cut the state's Medicaid deficit. That came just months after Tate was put on a waiting list which would have prioritized her ability to receive new lungs, which will help her move beyond her current 25 percent lung capacity.
The bottom line from that decision is that Tate and her supporters now need to find $277,000 to pay for her double-lung transplant. The Seton Catholic girls basketball team has already raised more than $50,000 with a silent auction and golf tournament, and plans to host an all-day concert with a handful of local rock bands on January 15. Among her biggest donors early on has been Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Wisenhunt, whose daughter Mary Ashley attends Seton Catholic and will perform at the all-day concert. Tate's parents and the girls basketball team have also set up a web site to help raise funding for the coach's medical problems.
"The kids are amazing," Tate told the Republic. "Our girls are so respectful and so kind. Coming here really helps. We don't feel well a majority of the time. You get a little depression. I try real hard not to get like that. But coming here makes me feel so much better. The girls and [Seton Catholic coach Karen Self] help me everyday."
Until funding is restored or Tate can somehow drum up the additional $225,000 needed for her lung transplant, the assistant coach is left spending nights on oxygen and has to avoid any events at high altitude, just as she had to minimize her altitude exposure in last season's championship game, when she immediately returned to Chandler after the team's victory while the rest of the team celebrated at high altitude Prescott Valley.
If she ever does get a lung transplant, there could be more than just easier breathing in her future: at least one community college which has left a basketball scholarship open for Tate if she becomes healthy enough to play again.
"Tiff helps us so much on and off the court," senior point guard Morgan Huppenthal said. "She is not only our coach, but our friend. She always is able to build our confidence and is able to give criticism in a way where we won't get down on ourselves. She is an inspiration to all of us, the way she is able to be the happy, loving, kind person she is when she has as many struggles as she does. We all love her very much."