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Students rally around Hazard football coach with cancer

By: Tanner Hesterberg Email
By: Tanner Hesterberg Email

HAZARD, Ky (WYMT) - Just win.

Those two words serve as a motto for Hazard High School.

But that phrase has taken on a new meaning as students and staff rally around a teacher and assistant football coach recently diagnosed with cancer.

Chuck Fugate, the team's offensive coordinator, went to the doctor on August 4 after spats of weakness.

"I dropped maybe 20 pounds in two weeks," Fugate said. "And I decided I needed to go get a checkup and they came back and said it was leukemia."

Fugate has been in Hazard ARH Hospital ever since.

But he rarely find himself alone.

"They say the hospital is a hard place to get sleep and that's a fact," Fugate said with a laugh. "But I don't mind the visitors."

"It's overwhelming. It's hard for someone to understand what they mean to a community or a group of kids until something like this happens. It's sad for that to be, but it's just been a steady stream of prayers and well wishes."

But the hundreds of students at HHS who want to offer support to Fugate cannot cram into his hospital room.

That's why a pep rally was organized Thursday where everyone wore custom shirts featuring the phrase "Just Win Coach" on the front.

"We just all love and care about him a lot and just hope he wins," said HHS student Marjorie Hammonds, who attended the rally. "We're just trying to support him and get the community to support him.'

Fugate said the encouragement from his students gives him strength.

"As a teacher, you have a role in kids' lives," he said. "But until something like this happens you don't understand exactly how much you mean."

For Fugate, the hardest part of the illness is not being able to coach the sport and players he loves.

"With cancer, it's either one way or the other. You're going to fight or you're not," Fugate said. "You're not going to lay down and die. But if I had to give football up...it would kill me."

Leukemia is a familiar topic to HHS student Kirby Whitaker.

Whitaker beat leukemia at age seven and spoke at Thursday's pep rally, sending Fugate a message that the coach's fight is winnable.

"It's not an easy thing to go through,' Whitaker said. "It's real hard to do if you don't have good family and friends to help pay for it and be there with you when you need them to."

HHS principal Happy Mobelini said, "Coach Fugate has worked here for 13 years. We want him to beat this thing."

But the front of these shirts don't tell the whole story.

The back says "Fight Like A Dawg" - reminding Fugate he's not the only dog in this fight.

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As of Thursday, Fugate had completed his first round of chemotherapy.

Doctors told him he will not be able to teach or coach for at least three months.

HHS officials are taking orders for the "Just Win Coach" shirts. You can reach the school at (606) 439-1318.

All the proceeds for the shirts will go toward Fugate's medical bills.

You can show your support for Coach Fugate on Twitter by using the hash tags #JustWinCoach and #ChuckStrong


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