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Pop Warner, town, rallies around Deb Smith: Longtime League President Diagnosed With Cancer

Jan 31, 2017 6:43 PM

WILMINGTON - Anyone familiar with Wilmington Pop Warner is familiar with the sight of the program’s president buzzing about the field with equipment, clipboards, and all manner of minor and major needs. Deb Smith is a constant, guiding hand to Wilmington youth football and cheerleading. Now, even as she faces an almost insurmountable burden, Deb Smith will not stop.

Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of this year. She was hit while spotting a tumbler in the cheerleading gym where she works, which led to the discovery and diagnosis. Smith began treatment a week later.

“It’s not curable,” Smith said. “But if they can hold it off for years, then we’re in good shape.”

Even in the midst of all this, she has continued to coach, and continued to work diligently for the Pop Warner program.

“I’ve always worked with kids,” Smith said. “It’s healthy for me to stay doing it. I just think, you can’t change your whole life. I couldn’t just shut down and not do the things that I always do…I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”

Smith has devoted over a decade to the program, and when word of her diagnosis spread, the community built up among the football and cheerleading family immediately stepped up to repay that dedication in kind.

“Kids came back because they wanted to make sure there is a full football program this year,” Smith said. “The community and everyone has been amazing. I was worried about the kids because everyone has had to deal with [something like this] in some way. We have some kids down here who have had some really tough luck. Them seeing me down here and feeling OK, it helps.”

“Deb’s touched [the lives] of a lot of kids in this program,” Joe McCauley said. “These kids want to pay her back for the all the things she’s done for this program.”

That community bond extends even beyond Wilmington. Smith has been undergoing treatment with the highly esteemed Dr. Harold Burstein of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Initially, she had been unable to get a meeting with Burstein due to his incredibly full schedule and client list.

“He reached out me because a fellow Pop Warner family from Winchester reached out to him. Before that, I couldn’t get in with him because he’s so booked.”

Many of Smith’s former charges in college cheerleading went on to nursing careers, and they have also taken an active concern in her health.

“Dr. Burstein will call me up and say, ‘What is it with this cheerleading thing?’” Smith laughed.

For all the good feelings and good results that have come from the Pop Warner program and other coaching ventures, Smith knows that soon she will have to step back. Winter months with wide spread illnesses may prove to be more risky. And more than that, Smith is intent on filling her life with as much time with her children as she can.

“I have missed numerous things for my children for this program because I chose to,” Smith said. “Now I can’t.”

But for the moment, Smith is focused on the good. She is coming to the end of a 12-month treatment cycle with promising results and feeling still energetic and active.

On the day she spoke to the Crier, the skies were clear blue, the sun was bright and warm, and Glenn Road was filled at every corner with children playing, learning, and growing.

Smith surveyed the scene and said, “So far, so good. Everything seems to be working out OK.”

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