3A Basketball | Coach's son inspires Renton boys team
Seattle Times staff reporter
This year, Rick Comer just has the usual concerns of a coach whose basketball team is in the state tournament.
That's nothing compared to last year when he was worried about his then 9-year-old son, Ben, who had just undergone brain surgery.
Comer will be coaching this morning when his Renton Indians (21-3) face Seattle Prep (21-5) at 10:30 in one of the best Day 1 matchups in the Class 3A state boys tournament.
A year ago, Comer was on leave from coaching after Ben was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
That began a frightening ordeal for Comer and his family. But Ben not only endured surgery and a long recovery, he emerged as an inspiration and a beloved part of Renton's team.
The nonmalignant tumor was removed Feb. 13, 2007, by neurosurgeon Richard Ellenbogen. He is the same surgeon who removed a nonmalignant tumor from the brain of former Washington quarterback Johnny DuRocher in November 2006.
DuRocher met with Ben after the youngster's surgery, and they compared surgical scars.
"You're going to be OK," DuRocher assured him.
Ben was at Children's Hospital for more than a month. The couple's daughter, Merri, dropped out of Central Washington University to be with Ben and her parents during the ordeal.
Ben was discharged March 9 and underwent more than 30 precautionary outpatient radiation sessions.
Before the surgery, Ben was dealing with excruciating headaches.
"It was like a crying moment when I was bending down and holding my head," Ben explained.
Ben was forced to drop out of school but his fourth-grade classmates at Cascade Elementary in Renton didn't forget him. They sent him get-well cards, and when he came home, a 6-foot card from the entire class proclaiming "Welcome Home, Ben" greeted him.
The gigantic card is still in the family living room.
The Renton team visited Ben in the hospital and gave him the game ball from a district-tournament victory and a No. 1 jersey.
"That really lifted his spirits," Comer said.
The team dedicated the season, which ended with an 0-2 performance at state, to Ben.
Another visitor was Ron Crockett, who played for Renton under coach Irv Leifer in the 1950s. Crockett is a prominent Washington booster and founder and president of Emerald Downs racetrack. He came bearing Huskies gifts.
"This is great that we got all this UW stuff, but we're Cougars at heart," joked Comer, who played basketball at Washington State after being recruited out of Birmingham, Ala., by George Raveling. At WSU, Comer met his wife and Ben's mother, Rosary, a Chief Sealth graduate.
Ben, now 10, is a good student hooked on Harry Potter books. He was able to make up lost ground and is in fifth grade as scheduled this year. He is the school vice president, resumed karate lessons and hopes to play baseball after a year layoff from team sports.
Comer considered resigning as Renton coach after the ordeal to spend more time at home, but Ben wouldn't hear of it. He wants to play for his father some day and likes being a coach's son.
"Hey, Dad, when does the season start?" he asked as the first game approached. "Can I do concessions?"
Ben has attended many Renton practices this season and participates in free-throw drills, sometimes outshooting some varsity players.
Those aren't the only people he has outperformed. Comer, who teaches math, noted with a chuckle that Ben often did better than his parents on some of the short-term memory tests he was given.
When Renton tips off today in KeyArena, Ben will be there.
"He's definitely going with us," Comer said.
Win or lose, it sure beats last year.
Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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