JIM PETERS: Rensselaer football team rallying around Roberts

2013-11-14T17:00:00Z 2013-11-14T19:32:17Z JIM PETERS: Rensselaer football team rallying around RobertsJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 14, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

On the football field, success is measured by yards and points kept track of on scoreboards by people like Steve Roberts.

For the respected Rensselaer businessman, victories in 2013 have been logged in terms of days, weeks, months and cell counts.

While the Bombers continue their postseason march tonight, Roberts is in the midst of his own struggle, against a much more formidable opponent.

A 1973 Rensselaer graduate and former football player, Roberts was diagnosed in January with stage two pancreatic cancer.

"I thought it was the end of the world," Roberts said. "Everybody I knew who had it died from it."

In conversations with doctors and patients, Roberts soon learned the disease didn't mean his life was over.

"If I could beat it, I was going to beat it," he said.

Roberts has part of his pancreas removed and was six months into his chemotherapy when the season started. He returned to the press box at Emory Harrison Field, where he has been part of the game crew for over 20 years. Roberts runs the scoreboard, spots for announcer Russ Martin and now coordinates the best collection of music you'll ever hear at a high school game.

"We have a great time up there," Roberts said.

Things were progressing well for Roberts until last month, when he suffered a setback.

"I was so weak, I couldn't even hold my head up," he said.

Roberts was hospitalized in Indianapolis, where he spent 10 days in a coma and experienced kidney shutdown. Doctors determined he was allergic to his chemotherapy medicine. Bed-ridden, Roberts relied on the radio and text messages to keep track of the Bombers.

"Football has always been my love," said Roberts, whose sons Justin and Brandon played for Rensselaer. "I said I was going to be in that press box (for the sectional), come hell or high water."

When the Bombers opened the tournament three weeks ago against Bishop Noll, Roberts was there. He required a walker and assistance to navigate the bleachers, but he was there.

"People were looking at me like, man, you're crazy," Roberts said.

Along the way, he became a source of inspiration for the football team.

"We always talk about dealing with adversity, whether it's a turnover or a penalty, and how they're going to handle it," coach Chris Meeks said. "With Steve's situation, the kids were seeing the relationship between the adversity they're dealing with in a game and how it translates to life as well."

The team originally planned to present the game ball to Roberts if it won the sectional. With Roberts in attendance that night, they decided to do it then. In a scene straight out of Hollywood, the entire team, including grandson Jacob Buzik, a senior receiver, scaled the bleachers to the press box.

"It was a pretty touching moment," Meeks said.

Roberts was overwhelmed.

"Totally awesome," he said. "I've been blessed, very honored. I can't believe how this has brought people together to help myself and my wife during this difficult time. It's been a magical year."

A benefit dinner was held for Roberts during his last hospital stay, with players volunteering their time. He was in attendance at last Thursday's team dinner, where the players autographed the game ball.

"It was the first time I'd met all of them," Roberts said. "I talked to every one of the kids. They were impressive. They were truly concerned about how I was doing. It's an unbelievable group. I keep telling parents, if you have a Bombers football player, you're to be commended, you've done a wonderful job raising your kids. This is the best group I've seen yet."

Meeks is proud but not surprised by the response. This is Rensselaer. Small Town, USA, home of Charlie Roberts Auto Center.

"Once a Bomber, always a Bomber," Meeks said. "Everybody's in it together. Steve's one of many role models for the team. He's in a battle for his life, giving it everything he's got, fighting tooth and nail. The kids can surely go out and battle for 48 minutes for him."

Medically, Roberts is in a good place. His numbers are positive, his doctor stopped his chemotherapy and doesn't plan to see Roberts for three months.

"I hope I'm beating it," he said. "That's my goal."

Win or lose, tonight's game will be Rensselaer's last of the season. They would be away for semistate, and, of course, a subsequent game would be at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"I'd be there," Roberts said." In the front row."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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