Former Thomas Worthington High School baseball coach Stephen Gussler Jr. died May 27.

Former Thomas Worthington High School baseball coach Stephen Gussler Jr. died May 27.

Gussler, 43, had battled colon cancer and rectal cancer for more than four years. He coached the Cardinals from 1998-2013 before stepping down this year and led the team to a 262-184 record.

In his final two seasons, Thomas went 46-14 with two OCC-Central Division championships and two Division I district tournament titles. The Cardinals were 22-7 in 2012 and 24-7 in 2013 when Gussler was selected the Division I state Coach of the Year. The district championship in 2012 was the first for the Cardinals since 1981.

"He's meant so much to this program," said Anthony Leahy, who coach Thomas to a 22-7 record and runner-up finishes in the league and district tournament this season. "He took over when the program needed repair and he changed the culture and turned it into a winner.

"But his off-field contributions to the school, the community and to his players' lives were more dramatic. He made a difference in their lives, taught them life lessons and generally helped them become great people. He did that with his students, too. In return, you've seen how many people throughout central Ohio have supported him. He was a teacher to his players, to all of the students and basically to all of us."

Leahy is a 2000 Thomas graduate who was a sophomore when Gussler became coach of the program. Leahy has been on the coaching staff for nine years.

Gussler was given nine to 12 months to live in 2010 and the school district thought he would accept its offer to take a leave of absence from teaching. Gussler, a health teacher, declined and continued to teach and coach with a positive approach to life.

A foundation "Gussstrong" was formed as Worthington, its schools and a strong Central District baseball family backed and supported "Guss," who graduated from Eastmoor Academy in 1989 and Ohio State in 1993. He was a member of the Buckeyes' 1993 Big Ten championship baseball team.

He is survived by wife, Angela, and children Yanni, Michayla, Trey and Jaidyn.

Gussler's final tweet April 14 spoke about his battle and will be a lasting encouragement to those who knew him.

"Life is a game with unfair changing rules but our mission never wavers: (1) Play to Win! (2) Never Surrender!"