April 07, 2020

Ordie finds a way to say thank you

This is not a story of bats and balls, wins and losses. It’s not a story of fun and games at all. This is something else.

Believe it or not (you are, after all, reading the sports pages in part because you expect those other kinds of tales) this is a story of hope. It’s about family and faith.

Mostly, it’s a story of thanks.

It all starts with Ordie Alley, husband and father, lobsterman and grandfather, proud Mainer and (this is the reason you know him, of course) legendary basketball coach.

Alley returned to Beals Island on Saturday after a two-month tour of the region’s finest clinics and hospitals, sat down, and realized something that had dawned on all of his friends much, much earlier.

He’d very nearly died.

After a month and a half during which he ate no solid food, Alley finally had his ailment diagnosed.

Myasthenia gravis, the doctors finally said.

“When [the doctor] said she was 90 percent sure, my heart fluttered,” says Alley, who by that time had received nothing but raised eyebrows and shrugs from veteran medical professionals. “And then she said, ‘Treatable disease.”‘

That, too, was welcome news: Alley had harbored a suspicion that the fact he could barely breathe – and couldn’t eat – was related to the prostate cancer that he knew lurked in his body.

On Monday, Alley began coaching his Jonesport-Beals Royals again. On Wednesday, he went lobstering again.

But even before that happened, Alley had a few things he wanted to say.

He talked about family, friends and faith. And he talked about prayers.

“My mother was always the religious person,” Alley says. “I didn’t go to church much … but I’ve always prayed a lot. On my own, every night, I’d say a little prayer about my family and things like that.”

But these aren’t the prayers you usually hear about in the sports pages. Alley isn’t like the hoop star you see praying for the strength to make a free throw 30 times a weekend on TV.

This is different.

On one day, he had six ministers visit his room at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“I think that’s a big, big factor in me being here,” Alley says. “You can’t imagine people are praying for you.”

And now, Alley figures he’s accrued a debt he needs to pay off: He needs to tell people that he appreciates what they did for him.

There are the obvious, like Dr. Kerry Crowley in Gouldsboro, and Dr. Claudia Chaves in Burlington, Mass. But that’s not all.

There’s the person in Ireland who called, and the one in California. And the 400 people who sent cards. Entire church youth groups. Whole basketball teams.

And there are plenty of people he has never met, but who know him because they watched him win those nine gold balls in his 32 years as the only coach Jonesport-Beals has ever had.

There are people who sent money. And people who prayed.

“When you’re coaching basketball, there’s people who don’t care,” he says. “And there are some people who downright don’t like you. But I found out there are a lot of people who apparently think quite a lot of you.”

Then, eyes growing misty behind the grin, he apologizes.

“Ever since I’ve been in the hospitals, I’ve been a real crybaby,” Alley says as his 4-year-old grand-daughter plays a few feet away.

“I was gonna write a letter,” Alley says. “But if there’s any way you can thank people for me, I’d certainly appreciate it … I don’t know how to express my feelings, how much it meant to me.”

You’re doing fine, coach. Welcome back.

John Holyoke is a NEWS sportswriter.

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