PALMYRA - Job security has been the last thing on the mind of a local football coach. During a time when Bernie Nowotarski should be concentrating on Xs and Os and the first game of the season, he’s been working on another game plan -- defeating cancer.
To coach the Harrisburg Stampede, Nowotarski has to know football inside and out. Up until a month ago, he also thought he knew his own body.
When his doctor told him he had cancer, he was stunned.
“I didn't walk into the office prepared to hear that I had cancer," said Nowotarski. "I walked in for a routine check-up."
Nowotarski is now walking with a slight limp, one of the effects of his chemotherapy treatments. The mass of cancer is located between his spine right hip.
He may also be carrying a bit of a chip on his shoulder, too.
Nowotarski is the same head coach who was let go last season after the team started out with a 0-6 record.
But he’s back.
The Stampede will open its inaugural season of American Indoor Football (AIF) on Saturday, April 7 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center.
Nowotarski is trying to build a winner; while also trying to destroy the bad cancer cells inside his bone marrow – also known as multiple myeloma. He has treatment three times a week then drives an hour or more from his home in Berks County to come to practice at In the Net in Lebanon County.
That commitment has not gone unnoticed.
"That's dedication on his part," said returning defensive lineman Fearon Wright. "He gets 150% from us every single night he comes out here."
"Seeing that he's doing that, help us get through the small things that we're going through in our life," said wide receiver Scorpio Brown.
Nowotarski needed crutches to get around not too long ago; he's obviously improving health-wise. He told CBS 21 News Sports Director Jason Bristol the mass is getting smaller; still it often ‘sits’ on a nerve between his spine and hip, making it painful for him to walk.
Being on a football field, however, helps him during his treatment process. “Today wasn't a great day, but coming to football practice, it's a diversion," Nowotarski said. "It has my mind focused on other things."
But his other game plan – defeating cancer – is still his number-one priority.