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Heart of the Lions: Louisa immortalizes retiring football coach

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. -- Growing up in the West End, Mark Fischer barely knew about Louisa County outside of highway signs on the way to Charlottesville.

"Didn't know a thing, didn't even know it existed to be perfectly honest," Fischer recalled.  "Back in the day, in the early 80s, you didn't know much past Goochland."

Fischer was a sporting goods salesman before becoming a football coach. One of his sales calls was to Louisa High School and a connection was made

"I met coaches and teachers and said, 'Man, I love this place. I want to coach here one day."

Mark Fischer

Mark Fischer

After stops at Henrico and Armstrong, Fischer got an interview to be the Louisa head coach, and made a unique impression.

"He said, 'I want to be the type of coach that's going to work hard, and roll up my sleeves, and one day you're gonna want to name something after me,'" said Fischer's wife, Pamela.

"I had to have a hook. I had to have something," Fischer added. "I immediately got shut down because (then Louisa principal) Mr. (Doug) Straley said, 'We don't do that here.'"

But they do now.

Earlier in October, Louisa schools decided to rename the field in honor of Coach Mark Fischer, for all he has meant to the team and the community. The move was led by Straley, who is now the superintendent of schools.

"He's going to look after you, he's going to take care of you" Straley said.  "He'll do anything for you and it's you before himself."

"The way he deals with kids and mentors them," added Jonathan Meeks, a former Louisa assistant coach who now runs his own program.  "He's hard on them, but they know he loves them."

Mark Fischer

Mark Fischer

Louisa officials changed their minds because they wanted Fischer to be able to coach the final game of the regular season on HIS field. Fischer is stepping down at the end of the season, not because he wants to, but because he has to.

Five years ago, Fischer broke several ribs just trying to hold a door open.

"The next morning they said, 'Get yourself to the hospital immediately.'" Fischer said.  "And I didn't. I ran to Lowe's, had a sandwich or whatever."

Subsequent tests revealed he has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood for which there is no cure. He has beaten it back twice, but it has returned. Fischer is on chemotherapy and dialysis and before this season, made the difficult decision with his family that this year would be his last with the Lions.

Mark Fischer

Mark Fischer

"It ain't easy," an emotional Fischer said.  "You do a lot of praying, a lot of soul searching because it's what you are. It's still not easy"

"You have to think about what's best for the team, for the kids and the program. The last thing I wanted to be was a figurehead."

One of the side effects of myeloma is that broken bones do not heal properly if at all. Fischer is managing his pain daily but his weakened immune system keeps him away from school for days at a time. That has done very little to diminish the effect and presence he has on the  program and the message he hopes to leave.

"His saying is R-T-I: Run Through it," Straley explained. "That's what he tells his players, that's what he tells those he works with. Don't let anything hold you up. There's no obstacle bigger than you can overcome."

Mark Fischer

Mark Fischer

"Never say, 'Why me?' I say 'why not me?'" Fischer said.  "For whatever reason, God chose me to show strength, to be a messenger, to say, 'OK, you've got cancer, so what?'"

"What are you going to do with it?"

For his part, Fischer says these days he feels "pretty daggone good" and his team has responded. They are 8-0 so far this year, and have scored less than 40 points only once in all those victories.

They are well on their way to the playoffs and at least one more home game at Mark Fischer Field.

"Beyond the Roster," Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.

"Beyond the Roster," Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.

Watch for Lane Casadonte's "Beyond the Roster" features Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. and on WTVR.com. Click here for more "Beyond the Roster."  If you would like to nominate someone to be profiled, email beyondtheroster@wtvr.com