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    Coach X gone, but not forgotten


    The 2010 district championship medal isn’t prominently displayed on the shelf in the corner of my bedroom. Visitors see it if they walk by the open door, but its presence mostly goes unnoticed.

    Its ribbon hangs loosely over the corner of the wooden structure. The attached medal sparkles when the light hits it.

    I’m proud of that medal but I did absolutely nothing to earn it.

    Former Independence baseball, basketball and golf coach Mark Echstenkamper, who passed away in his sleep on New Year’s Eve after a year and a half battle with Glioblastoma Multiforme, a form of brain cancer, presented me with that medal this past summer.

    Coach X and his players won the award after clinching the Division III Euclid baseball tournament back in the spring of 2010. The Blue Devils, who were ranked fifth in the state that season, went on to win the Massillon Regional tournament and appeared in the state Final Four.

    That medal meant a lot to Coach X and now it means a lot to me.

    See, Coach X knew that medal wasn’t earned simply by outscoring whatever opponent the team faced on any given day.

    That medal was earned in the days and months and years that preceded the long tournament run. The Blue Devils put in work in the batting cage, on open field days and in practice, and they overcame their share of adversity.

    They accomplished a lot, together.

    There were other tournament runs, including another district title in 2014, but that season was special.

    That medal proves it. It’s a constant reminder of what a positive attitude and strong work ethic can help you and your team achieve.

    Coach X knew what buttons to push to lead his players to reach their full potential and he knew what I needed that June 18 at the Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland.

    I was midway through my second stem cell transplant following a cancer relapse earlier in the spring.

    Despite his own struggles, Coach X visited me in the hospital.

    We talked. We laughed. He prayed for me.

    I asked about his visit to the Cleveland Clinic earlier that day. He deflected back to me. He remained hopeful about his treatments but he wanted to hear how I was doing. He wanted to be sure I was strong and had the support I needed.

    He always provided support.

    My relationship with Coach X dates back to the spring of 2013 when I first covered the Blue Devils. I was there for that second district title and the extra-inning loss to Orrville in the regional semis.

    I was there for the rough years that followed as the team went through some rebuilding after the graduation of so many talented players.

    One thing never changed; he loved and supported all of his players.

    He treated the players on the struggling teams with the same love and affection he did that 2014 squad.

    When providing post-game quotes, he always remained positive regardless of the outcome. He understood the journey was far more important than the stops along the way.

    A win or a loss would never mean as much as the life lessons his players learned during their playing careers.

    Coach X took a short leave of absence in 2016 in order to watch his son play baseball during his final season at Wellington High School. His return to the Independence dugout was short-lived as he was diagnosed with the brain cancer on June 2, 2018.

    Two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and countless other treatments followed but he never lost his spirit and he visited me over the summer with the intention of lifting mine.

    That’s who he was. That’s how I’ll remember him.

    Steve Hare
    Steve Hare
    The creator and publisher of, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.
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