When the Cane Bay Cobras take the field tonight for their first-round Class AAA playoff game against Wilson, senior center Josh Hale does so with a lot more on his mind than simply winning a football game.
As he has throughout his senior season, Hale will be dedicating every snap to his 21-year old brother, Chris, who is in a battle of his own. Chris Hale was diagnosed with leukemia last spring.
Josh Hale, a fourth-year starter for the 7-3 Cobras, has managed to maintain his focus and continues to be the anchor of the offensive line.
"I am amazed at his ability to focus on football as much as he does considering all he is going through," said Cane Bay head coach Russell Zehr. "High school kids wake up and wonder who they are taking on a date, and Josh wakes up wondering about something so much more important. I can't imagine what he is going through, and the fact that he gives us as much as he does is a testament to his strength and character."
Hale has missed practice on occasion while he visits his brother in the hospital during one of the several surgeries that Chris has undergone this fall. Learning to manage football and school while still being there for his brother has been hard.
"The coaches and my teammates have been very supportive and understanding," said Hale. "My brother sometimes gets mad that I missed football for him. He says I should be at practice. But I'm going to be there for him first."
Hale recalls one of the worst days of his young life last May, when he had two bombshells dropped on him within hours of each other.
The first came when his head coach, Jeff Cruce, told the team that he was leaving the program to become the head coach at Berkeley. Cruce had been the school's only coach since the program started in 2008 and Hale, like many of the rising seniors, were shocked and hurt.
A few hours later, on his ride home from school, Hale received a call from his mother that his brother was taken to the hospital.
"I remember thinking, 'What else can happen,' " Hale said. "It was a tough day for sure. Chris was just working in the yard and felt light-headed and sick. He ended up going to the hospital and they started running tests, and it all happened so quickly."
There is hope for Chris, according to Josh. His brother got lucky and found a match and has already received a bone marrow transplant. There are still complications, but Chris has improved somewhat since last summer.
"It's too early to tell, but I just know inside that he is going to be better," said Hale. "He has ups and downs, but he's hanging in there."
Josh, a three-time all-region selection, is looking forward to playing as many games as he can in this postseason. He likely won't play in college, so he's trying to enjoy his final days as a football player.
"My mind is focused on what we have to do to win," said Hale. "I have a lot of hope that my brother will completely heal, and I also have high hopes for our team. Every game I play could be my last so I want to give it all I've got -- for Chris and my team."