October 18, 2010
Santa Margarita (Calif.) High School coach Harry Welch was already a living legend before the 2010 season. After building a dynasty at Canyon (Calif.) High School and leading tiny St. Margarets (Calif.) to a state crown, there's little doubt Welch would be remembered throughout Southern Calif. regardless of what he did for his current program, Santa Margarita. Yet this year, Welch might have even outdone himself in pure toughness and resolve, coaching his Santa Margarita team to a huge 27-15 win over Trinity League power Orange Lutheran on Friday night, just 10 days after he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.
"I didn't know if I'd be here," Welch told the Orange County Register. "I didn't know if I'd be able to stand. I felt strength from the young men, all the people at the school, the faculty and my family."
According to the Register's OCVarsity.com, Welch not only stood, he passionately led his team, helping the Eagles rally from a 15-14 third quarter deficit to knock off one of their primary rivals for a league title. The win was Santa Margarita's first over Orange Lutheran in more than a decade, and the first since the two schools were paired together in the Trinity League.
While Welch never took his eyes off coaching, he wasted little time in attacking prostate cancer after his initial diagnosis in August. The longtime figurehead immediately went public about his cancer diagnosis, and has lobbied intensely to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer early and often. There's little doubt that he will continue to find new soapboxes for that message, even after his cancer surgery.
Friday's game provided exactly that opportunity, though Welch need not say anything about the disease following his team's victory. The entire game felt like an emotional tribute to a coach who refused to step aside to deal with his own illness.
The most touching moments all came when the final seconds of the game clock evaporated, putting Welch firmly in the spotlight. First, game official Bob Yoakum handed the coach the game ball, a tribute to the respect Welch has earned throughout Southern California. When the Santa Margarita head man met Orange Lutheran coach Jim Kunau at midfield, Kunau simply called him a stud.
For Welch's part, the career coach with a reputation for outward toughness was choked up by all the tributes and accolades sent his direction.
"I'm glad you weren't down here," Welch told an Orange County Register reporter who called him from the press box after the game. "You would have seen me cry."