Prep Sports

Tater Tough: Williamsburg boys' golf team goes back to state with coach's son in mind

Raiders reach state after year hiatus, dedicate season to coach's son diagnosed with cancer

Williamsburg golf coach Brad Schaefer and his son, Tate, at The Masters. Tate is battling cancer and the Raiders’ team has dedicated its season to him. (Family photo)
Williamsburg golf coach Brad Schaefer and his son, Tate, at The Masters. Tate is battling cancer and the Raiders’ team has dedicated its season to him. (Family photo)

WILLIAMSBURG — The emotion in Brad Schaefer’s voice was nearly palpable.

The Williamsburg golf coach paused briefly and continued to describe the district meet. The recollection was filled with thrill for the Raiders’ return to the state tournament, following a year hiatus when their streak of eight straight appearances was snapped.

Schaefer was equally moved by his players’ gesture and the result dedicated to his 11-year-old son, who is fighting Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a tumor that starts in the brainstem.

“These six kids and their families care a lot for Tate and my family, so it was emotional,” Schaefer said. “It was pretty cool. We’re excited.”

The Raiders will sport polo shirts with the “Tater Tough” logo, supporters might sport team shirts with the “State with Tate” slogan and he will be right there with them all when they compete in the Class 2A state tournament Thursday and Friday at the American Legion Golf Course in Marshalltown.

“We were playing for more than ourselves,” Williamsburg senior Dylan Burns said. “We aren’t just fighting for our school or name, we’re fighting for like our little brother, which is huge. It placed a spark in us.”

Tate was an active preteen, enjoying basketball and baseball and sharing a love for golf with his family. He was in the midst of basketball season when coaches noticed something wasn’t right. Tate was having uncharacteristic problems shooting and receiving the ball.

“We watched a couple practices and we noticed his eyes almost seemed like he wasn’t seeing the rim,” Schaefer said. “He talked about the basket and seeing double and wouldn’t be able to catch a pass. It’s just very, very odd, because he was a very athletic kid.”

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The family visited an optometrist, who identified double vision and suggested they get more tests to rule out more serious issues. Tate underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test Dec. 12 at the University of Iowa and was escorted to the emergency room immediately.

The Schaefers were stunned by the DIPG diagnosis, but have received a lot of support.

“You rally the troops,” said Schaefer, whose family met and received advice from Craig and Stacy Schroeder, the parents of the late 15-year-old Austin Schroeder, who battled cancer and was the inspiration for the Fight with Flash Foundation. “We have an amazing community.”

They sought a second opinion, sending scans to children’s cancer centers at St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital and Cincinnati Cancer Center. They confirmed the diagnosis, starting the treatment process.

“At first, you want to make sure it’s not a misdiagnosis,” Schaefer said. “The location of the tumor, the diagnosis is all done with MRIs.

“There are no biopsies or surgeries, because of the location. Nobody will touch it because it is very risky.”

Tate received numerous radiation at UI. He has been accepted for a University of California, San Francisco clinical trial of convection enhanced delivery (CED) for chemotherapy, using catheters to administer the drug directly to the tumor area.

“He continues to fight every day,” said Schaefer, noting Tate goes to physical therapy for some strength loss on his left side. “He has a contagious smile. He’s a positive kid. He gets flustered at times, but he hasn’t complained.”

Special moments have become a priority and have been meshed with all the treatments and medicines to help Tate manage the disease.

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Schaefer was able to take his son to a Los Angeles Rams game to see former Williamsburg standout Austin Blythe in a playoff game and the whole family, including matriarch Darcy and Teagan, attended the Super Bowl. Tate also took a trip to Turks and Caicos through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, visited Disney World and attended The Masters with his dad and friends.

Tate is looking forward to the state meet, serving as the team manager, being in team pictures and riding around with the team, as long as he feels well.

“We’ve been running and running, making tons of memories,” Schaefer said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to coach golf. That was a big thing when we got the diagnosis and Tate said he wanted to be around these kids.”

The Raiders have discovered inspiration from the fifth-grade fighter. Golf can be a frustrating games at times, but one thought of Tate is enough to overcome those struggles. He is a good example of strength and perseverance.

“He’s out there every day, fighting for his life and doing what he can do best,” Burns said. “It makes me smile. It helps me get back on my game. I think the whole team benefits from that as well.”

Sports can be a great way to teach life lessons. The Raiders have learned they are fortunate for the ability to play and it is a game, after all.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal,” Schaefer said. “I think that’s what they’ve really grasped from this and they’ve taken it.

“If they have a bad hole, they don’t get down. They just keep fighting and stay positive.”

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Williamsburg ranks fourth in 2A with a 329.56 18-hole team average. Burns leads the way with a 77.22 average. Ryan Cavett comes in at 82.33 and Austin Burns gives the Raiders a third at 85 or better. The entire team has been focused on this chance.

“We all had the same goal to get back to state,” Burns said. “We fell short last year, which has made us hungrier this year.”

Williamsburg will try to bring home hardware. The Raiders earned a state berth with a runner-up district finish. They have an opportunity to place just as high at state. The class contains some team parity.

“There is no real dominant 2A team,” Schaefer said. “It could be up in the air for anybody, if you put two good days together. We’re really starting to play pretty well.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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