Craddock’s battle is no game

By Thom Gippert

Every spring, college football teams practice in preparation for the challenges they will face when the season begins in the fall.

This past spring, however, was quite different for Western Illinois University head coach Bruce Craddock. Instead of meeting the challenges to prepare his own team, he was faced with a challenge of his own—the battle against cancer.

It was in March when doctors told Craddock that he had only eight months to live because of tumors found throughout his stomach. But that has not stopped Craddock from relinquishing his post at WIU.

The former Marine captain has no plans of giving up his battle and he fully intends to remain on the sidelines and watch his Leatherneck squad try to defend its Gateway Conference championship.

“He seems to be holding his own, the tumors however, have remained status quo,” said WIU Sports Information Director Larry Heimburger.

After not feeling well for some time, in March, Craddock went to see doctors, who informed Craddock of an egg-sized tumor on his liver. Once more tests were taken, tumors were found throughout his entire stomach and chemotherapy and prayer were the treatment plans.

Although no one can pinpoint the exact cause of his disease, agent orange—the lethal chemical which was exposed to many soldiers in the Vietnam War—could provide an answer. In 1969, Craddock spent the entire year in Vietnam as a First Lieutenant for the Marines. Craddock also was told the stress of his job might have been a factor in his illness.

Craddock is still on the sidelines, but he has handed over most of the coaching responsibilities to his two top assistants—Randy Ball and Bill Wilt.

“I’m not doing much coaching, I’m just there. Randy and Bill are doing the coaching,” Craddock said.

The two-time Gateway Coach of the Year still attends practices, albeit while sitting in a golf cart.

“He’s made every practice, but he tires easily,” Heimburger said.

The seventh-year WIU coach attends meetings in the mornings, then goes home to rest from noon to 3 p.m. before coming back for practice in the afternoon every day.

“He’s a very positive person, he’s still praying for a miracle,” Heimburger said.

While the prayers continue, so do the chemotherapy treatments. Craddock has gone through 25 treatments and more are coming after the game Saturday. Later in the month, Craddock will go to Peoria to have tests done to see if the tumors have decreased.

Craddock won an early battle in his fight when he gained back the 40 pounds he had lost due to treatment. Even now, the outside, physical differences remain at a minimum.

“He’s lost some hair and he doesn’t have as much color, but he exudes confidence and he always has a smile on his face,” Heimburger said.

The WIU players also have pushed themselves a little bit harder this year in an effort to show Craddock how they feel.

“The players dedicated themselves to him; they care so much for him,” Heimburger said.

For Craddock, however, the fight continues. He realizes that this is an uphill battle. But he won’t give up—that’s just his nature.

“I believe in the power of prayer; I have trust in the Lord. You just can’t give up. I’ve got a lot to live for, my family especially,” said Craddock in reference to his wife and three children.

So for the 45-year-old Craddock, Saturday’s game is just a minor battle compared to what he faces as he fights this illness in the months to come.