It has been a difficult year for the UT club hockey team. For assistant coach Jim White, the battles that take place on the ice have taken a backseat.
While the Longhorns have faced off against North Texas, UTSA and Texas A&M this season, White has been forced to deal with a more difficult opponent: cancer. His battle with kidney cancer has impacted his team more than any game could.
Dave McShane, also an assistant coach for Texas, has been working alongside White for years. The two led the Austin bantam travel team to a 20-1-1 record in 2006-07, just one year before joining the Longhorn staff.
“He really is a student of the game,” McShane said.
White was one of the first coaches in the Austin area to earn his Level 5 Coaching Certificate, the highest level awarded to coaches by USA Hockey. Before the 2008-09 season, Texas head coach Bob Smith asked White and McShane to join his staff and work on strengthening the ice hockey program.
“At that time, he was a huge guy,” McShane explained. “He was incredibly strong, benched huge amounts of weight and most likely had the hardest shot in town.”
Goaltender Ryan McSherry and defenseman Will Harlin both played for White during the 2008-2009 season.
“He was one of the better, if not the best coach I ever played for,” said McSherry, an electrical engineering graduate student.
There aren’t too many things more important to White than the game of hockey. The Philadelphia native wrote an instructional book on half-ice practice drills. However, if there was anything that meant more to Jim White than the game itself, it was the players who played it. Both McSherry and Harlin, a sophomore business major, agreed that although White was tough on them at times and didn’t mind making his guys skate an extra few laps, he was understanding and cared about every one of his players.
“The coaching staff and the kids in the locker room were the most important people in his life, right up there with his wife and family,” Harlin said.
Things took quite a turn for White and the entire program in the middle of last season. During his trips to the weight room, White began to notice a pain in his back. At McShane’s urging, White went to see a chiropractor.
After just a couple sessions, the chiropractor could tell that there was something more severe than a muscle strain in White’s lower back. He was referred to another doctor who took some X-rays and noticed a handlike shape surrounding the lower part of his spine.
It was a tumor.
The doctor knew that the cancer could not have come from the spine itself and as a result, traced it back to where it had originated in the kidney.
“When you lose a person who means that much to your team, it really hits you hard,” McSherry said.
White’s kidney was removed in February of last year, and he has continued to battle the cancer ever since. His former 260-pound, athletic stature is hard to imagine at this point. White continued to lose weight last year but is stabilized now at around 170 pounds.
Just a few weeks ago, the cancer and other complications led to White being put on life support. When White’s wife was asked by the doctor if she wished for him to be put on support, she gave a firm response.
“If there’s a chance, I want him to have it,” she said.
McShane heard the news just before the Longhorns took to the ice in Austin for a game against North Texas. After informing the team about White’s status, they prayed for him together. About a week later, White fought his way back and was once again supporting himself.
White’s illness has forced him to take a break from coaching, but the team continues to hope and pray for his return.