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High Schools | ERIC SONDHEIMER

There Is No Putting the Brakes on This Dodge

November 13, 2001|Eric Sondheimer

Fairy tales are inspiring because they always have a happy ending.

Dodge Williams of Loyola High is the main character in another fairy tale, only no one knows what the ending will be.

It's a story about perseverance and hope.

Dodge was the little brother who used to cheer for brothers Taylor and John, All-Del Rey League players, at Loyola football games.

He wasn't as tall or strong as his brothers because he had to deal with Crohn's Disease, a debilitating disorder of the gastrointestinal system. It causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever and weight loss. It's like having flu every day.

But Dodge didn't complain and wasn't about to let some illness prevent him from fulfilling his dream of playing for Loyola. He remembered resting in bed at night and hearing his father mow the lawn at midnight because he was so nervous before his brothers' games. He wanted his father to experience those same nervous feelings before his games at Loyola.

Last summer, Dodge was on the verge of breaking into the starting lineup as a defensive back and receiver.

"He had worked as hard as any athlete I've had," Coach Steve Grady said.

Then, during the final passing league game July 24, Dodge broke his right leg. His doctor told him he'd be sidelined four months, wiping out his senior season.

"It was the most devastating thing in my life," Dodge said. "I seemed to be on the top of everything. I had been elected vice president of the school. I was working real hard. Then I break my leg. How much worse can it get?"

Grady, in his 26th season as coach, is known for his stoic demeanor. But the injury affected him as much as Dodge's teammates.

"In all my years of coaching, this is probably the greatest injustice to a young man," he said.

In early September, Dodge had to spend 11 days in the hospital with a viral infection that caused him to run a 103-degree temperature. His weight dropped from 145 pounds to 110 pounds.

Again, he moved on. He refused to give up hope of playing this season. He'd limp around campus in his cast telling classmates he'd be back.

"His confidence has not been shot down even though he has had every excuse to quit," running back Bo Renaud said.

The cast was removed Oct. 10. He started working out with a trainer four days a week. Two weeks ago, he started jogging. Last week, the doctor gave him permission to put on pads and work out with no contact.

"I want to try to do something for my teammates," he said. "If they see me, maybe it will get them to work harder."

Going to games this season has been difficult for Dodge. He sees his friends in uniform ready to play a game they love and can't join them.

"I want to help in some way," he said. "When I stand on the sideline, I almost cry."

He has no illusions about making it back as a starter. But he desperately wants to play in a game, whether it be for one play or one kickoff.

"Right now, anything would be better," he said.

Grady promises if the doctor gives permission, he'll put Dodge in. Dodge said the doctor might clear him to participate in the playoff game scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving.

But Loyola will have to defeat Rialto Eisenhower in Friday's opening round of the Division I playoffs to keep Dodge's hopes alive.

Dodge's teammates understand what playing in a game this season would mean to him.

"For Dodge, it isn't about scholarships, press or pats on the back," Renaud said. "It's all for the love of the game. It's not tainted but pure."

If only someone could sprinkle pixie dust on Dodge, he'd have his magical moment. But this is real life, and there's no guarantee of a happy ending.

It will be up to Dodge's teammates and fate itself to decide what happens.

*

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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