The Osceola coach has had two throat operations and is feeling better.
Ernie Whalen has more than a school year's worth of sick days stocked up. After missing only four days of work in his previous 19 years of teaching, Whalen, Osceola's girls soccer coach, now has a reason to use them.
Whalen is battling throat cancer. His fight has involved two surgeries, radiation treatment and chemotherapy this school year.
"The doctor said if you've got the time, take it," Whalen said. "You'll feel better."
Though Whalen, a Spanish teacher at Osceola, is out of the classroom and likely will be until the end of the quarter, he goes to practices and games. He stays seated to keep his strength and with his throat still recovering from surgery, he can't yell.
"The girls know, when he gets up and walks down to one end of the field and comes back, something's wrong. That's their key," said Osceola athletic director Brad Finkbiner.
Finkbiner said the team tries to have at least one other coach on the sideline during games to help Whalen and bark out commands he has written down. Warriors track coach Gary Mabe has been at the past few games.
"He's been my voice," Whalen said.
Osceola captains Erica Civello and Megan Ware have kept the team going on the field. The Warriors (9-2) have won three of their past five by the eight-goal mercy rule.
Whalen is also the school's tennis and swimming coach. He had his first surgery in September, during swim season, and missed a few weeks of school. When he came back he said he felt fine and was well enough to travel to the state diving finals with Alex Tilbrook, who won the title.
A few weeks ago Whalen started to feel bad. He had his second surgery two days after Thanksgiving.
"They think it was successful," Whalen said. "They think they got it all."
He has had a tonsil and several lymph nodes removed. Doctors require him to have radiation treatments daily and chemotherapy weekly until the end of the month.
Whalen is still using a feeding tube for nourishment and gained a pound back on Wednesday.OSCEOLA TOURNAMENT
WHEN: Monday through Thursday.
WHERE: Osceola High, 9751 98th St. N
SCHEDULE: Monday - Osceola vs. Largo, 6; Boca Ciega vs. Lakewood, 8. Tuesday - Largo vs. Lakewood, 6; Osceola vs. Boca Ciega, 8. Thursday - Boca Ciega vs. Largo, 6; Osceola vs. Lakewood, 8.