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SCW coach: 'Get busy living'

WOONSOCKET--On New Year's Eve, Rob Baruth didn't feel like celebrating. The Sanborn Central/Woonsocket co-head girls basketball coach was busy planning his next decision after receiving a phone call from his doctors. His diagnosis wasn't ideal, a...

Sanborn Central/Woonsocket co-head coach Rob Baruth, right, gives instructions to Blackhawks player Tesa Jensen, center, during a high school girls basketball game earlier this season in Forestburg. (Garrick Hodge/Republic)
Sanborn Central/Woonsocket co-head coach Rob Baruth, right, gives instructions to Blackhawks player Tesa Jensen, center, during a high school girls basketball game earlier this season in Forestburg. (Garrick Hodge/Republic)

WOONSOCKET-On New Year's Eve, Rob Baruth didn't feel like celebrating.

The Sanborn Central/Woonsocket co-head girls basketball coach was busy planning his next decision after receiving a phone call from his doctors. His diagnosis wasn't ideal, as Baruth was told his melanoma, a type of skin cancer, had returned after a 10-year absence. Only this time, the cancer spread to his lungs.

That wasn't the way he planned on bringing in the new year.

"I went through it 10 years ago, but nothing quite like this," Baruth said. "It just hits you right away when you hear the word cancer. I've had a lot of family members go through cancer. I lost my mom, three uncles and an aunt all with cancer in the last eight to nine years. It really hits you when you say, 'Wow, I hope this isn't my turn.' "

If Baruth felt pity on himself, it didn't last long.

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"I had a day or two where I was a little down in the dumps, but we kept fighting," he said. "You realize, 'You know what, you can get busy living or get busy dying.' We decided we were going to get after this."

Baruth consulted with his doctors in Sioux Falls and quickly decided a course of action. On Jan. 19, Baruth had surgery to remove part of his right lung, in which the cancer resided.

After the operation, Baruth had to miss several practices and games to recover. The news of their coach's illness devastated Blackhawk players. Several girls on the roster have already had to deal with the death of beloved teammate Tanna Kingsbury from Ewing's sarcoma in September of 2014.

"It was tough at the beginning when he broke the news to the team," said Tim McCain, the Blackhawks' other co-head coach. "But it definitely brought people closer together. Our team had to deal with the loss of Tanna Kingsbury a few years ago, and now they have to deal with a coach with cancer. It's really a nasty word. We're trying to be positive for him."

The Blackhawks may have rallied around Baruth, but he also rallied around them. Determined not to let the illness limit him, Baruth returned to the team in February. Since his comeback on the court, SCW has won the District 6B title and will have a chance to earn a state tournament berth if it beats the winner between De Smet and Castlewood in the Region 3B championship on Friday at the Huron Arena in Huron.

"That's the best part of this whole situation is the team I've been blessed with," Baruth said. "They're amazing girls.I'd miss being around the kids when I had to do all the treatment stuff in the afternoon. They give me strength, and make me want to fight and get better. I don't want to miss out on any of those kinds of things."

The support for Baruth has extended throughout Letcher, Woonsocket, Forestburg and other surrounding communities. When Baruth was undergoing treatment, he said various neighbors visited his residence to assist with household chores. He also received calls from various coaches, such as Hanson's Jim Bridge, who all wished him well.

"A lot of people helped us fight, and we're going to continue to fight," Baruth said. "This journey toughens you up, and you find out a lot of things about yourself and your family and friends. Having the Blackhawks behind us has just been incredible from all the area towns. It's just been amazing to me to watch those people do what they've done for our family, and I can't thank them enough."

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Prepping for the Region 3B game will have to wait-at least a few days-as Baruth will return to the doctor on Monday to have more tests run.

This time though, there's optimism for good news.

"When I had the surgery, they think they got it all," Baruth said. "But we're going to go back, do all of our tests and all of the scans and then get started on a therapy treatment. We're trying to fight anything they can't find. We're looking forward to that in our journey of defeating cancer again."

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