SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Carthage head coach L.J. Marx was on top of the world in the fall of 2007. He had coached the Red Men in their first three years of existence, led them to two Molten Invitational runner ups (the unofficial DIII national championship at the time) and was the coach of the year twice. All of those achievements would soon be the furthest thing from Marx’s mind as he got some of the worst news a person could receive.
His nine-month old daughter was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. This was the beginning of a serious reality check for Marx.
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“[At the time] I was probably following the same path of most volleyball coaches,” Marx said. “Burning the candle at both ends in the office. [I was] probably sacrificing a little too much family time. It was all about recruiting and winning volleyball matches.”
After the diagnosis, Marx decided to resume his duties as head coach and still take care of his daughter. This consisted of long days where while his wife was at work he would be at the hospital in Milwaukee, Wis. Once she got off of work he would drive an hour to coach the team in Kenosha Wis. and then drive an hour back to the hospital. At the time Marx said he was averaging two hours of sleep per night.
He remembers the exact moment when he realized that he could not keep up this schedule.
“We were at a tournament in New Jersey where I think I spaced out on the bench and missed 15 points of the match,” Marx said.
“My mind was not with the team in New Jersey it was back in Wisconsin with my daughter. So when we flew home I walked in to the athletic directors’ office and said ‘I don’t know how this works do I resign, take a leave of absence?’”
He took a leave of absence and the team was coached by the women’s coach for the rest of the season. While trying to coach the team his contact with his current recruiting class had virtually stopped. Tyler Frings said it made him reconsider where he would go to school.
“I was full heart into go to Carthage,” Frings said. “When I lost contact I started wavering around, looking at other schools to focus on academics maybe still try and play the game. Once he explained why he was gone, something I recognized as a positive decision, which was something I realized as an influence I wanted to be under. Coach was an inspiration to me.”
When Frings began at Carthage for the 2009 season, he was inserted into the starting line up immediately along with fellow freshmen Mike Bynon, John Condon, Matt Yanz and Randy Hansen. They had to replace a senior class that had just graduated and ended up enduring a tough 8-25 season.
After suffering through growing pains of becoming a team and dealing with their tough circumstances, the situation began to turn around for the Red Men. One of the main reasons was a unique philosophy adopted by their head coach.
“We have a very simple unwritten rule in the program,” Marx said. “If something important comes up and you’re thinking I don’t know if I can come to practice you don’t even need to explain yourself. Just let me know ‘coach I’m not coming’ and their life is fine, because the reality of the situation is life happens.”
His new attitude and hard work while dealing with his daughters’ illness has endeared him to his players.
“He did an unreal job balancing the two [caring for his daughter and coaching the team],” Bynon said. “You never knew that he had late nights with his daughter. When he was in the gym he worked every bit as hard as he does now. It was awesome for us to see that he had such a hard time in his life and he gave everything he could to us.”
Marx is back on top of the world again as Carthage will play Springfield for the national championship on Sunday. But most importantly to him, he has a healthy daughter.