Stephen Gussler Jr., the baseball coach who led Thomas Worthington to the heights but was known more for his courage fighting cancer, died Tuesday, May 27.
He was 43.
In 2010, Gussler learned he had colon cancer and rectal cancer and was given nine to 12 months to live. New drugs and experimental treatments -- along with his upbeat personality and determination -- helped him outlive the prognosis.
Students at the high school frequently wore wristbands and T-shirts with “Gusstrong” printed on them in support of Gussler. There was a banner with the same message on the right-field fence of Frank Welling Field at the school.
The school district offered Gussler the opportunity to take a leave of absence from teaching in 2010. He politely declined, saying the job and students kept him positive and not centered on the misery of chemotherapy treatments.
“You must stay positive,” he said. “What is the alternative? I won’t quit this.”
Gussler preached to students in his health classes and as a guidance-studies counselor for at-risk students to get regular medical checkups in an attempt to avoid what he was going through. His parents, Stephen and Judy, adopted Stephen when he was 9 months old and had no medical records of their son.
Before a Thomas Worthington-Worthington Kilbourne basketball game, students surprised Gussler by wearing Gusstrong T-shirts in his honor.
“I was touched,” he said. “I was overwhelmed.”
Gussler won 262 games in 16 seasons with the Cardinals. In 2012, he led the team to a 22-7 record, Ohio Capital Conference Central Division championship and to its first district championship since 1981. He was named The Dispatch All-Metro Coach of the Year.
Last spring, Thomas Worthington was even better in recording a 24-7 record and conference and district championships. Gussler was voted the Division I state coach of the year.
The simpler things rather than accolades made coaching worthwhile for Gussler. He talked about the players having “Bro Night” on a weekly basis at a local restaurant to become closer. After the first district championship, he was touched when someone he worked with at McDonald’s as a teenager was in the stands cheering.
Gussler said some of his best days during the struggle with cancer were spent coaching third base and charting the game while sitting on a paint bucket in the dugout.
He is survived by wife, Angela, and children Yanni, Michayla, Trey and Jaidyn.