- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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Through suffering, a pair of rival basketball coaches forged a connection.
As Nazareth girls basketball coach Apache Paschall, who died on Tuesday, battled skin cancer this fall and winter, he talked at times with Mary Louis girls basketball coach Joe Lewinger, who has a pair of six-year-old twins that had or currently have cancer. It allowed the two coaches to develop a relationship beyond that of two coaches competing for a title.
"You have a situation where I got to see a different side of him, a more personal side of him and he was very appreciative and I was asking if I can help him or offer advice," Lewinger said on Tuesday. "Call it whatever you want, there was a different form of a coaching relationship there."
Lewinger's pair of six-year-old twins, Madison and Jack, were both diagnosed in 2008 with Wilms' tumor, a form of kidney cancer. The coach said that Jack beat the cancer in 2009 while Madison relapsed twice and he is hopeful they now have it under control. Lewinger took a year off from coaching during the 2010 season as he attended to his kids' health and said that Paschall, then coaching at St. Michael Academy, would ask how Lewinger's children were doing.
When Lewinger found out that Paschall had been diagnosed with skin cancer in the fall, he sought out the Nazareth coach in hope of being able to lend a helping hand. Lewinger believed that he would be able to help out Paschall with his advice having watched and helped his two children as they battled cancer.
The coach said that he and Paschall had a bunch of private discussions about cancer and Paschall was very inquisitive at times.
"We both understood that we may be coaches and colleagues but at the same time we had the same struggle together," Lewinger said. "He was very appreciative of those discussions. There were times when he had no questions, there were times when he had some questions."
He added: "I hope the conversations helped. It was just advice. I'm not a doctor. I just told him some of the things about my dealings with cancer and having to be an advocate for my daughter and son and I wanted to make sure he was his own advocate. I hope they were beneficial in case of any decision he had to make."
Lewinger's team lost to Paschall's Nazareth squad earlier this season, Nazareth's first this campaign. The coach was thankful that his last conversation with Paschall was more on a personal level than one about their coaching lives. He said that Paschall's death is a big loss for New York City basketball.
"Apache always felt he was doing right by the kids and he was helping them go to college," Lewinger said. "He was very consistent with that message and I will always remember that he stuck to what his principles were."