Broken Bow Softball Team Submitted Photo

The 2021 Broken Bow Lady Savages State Champion team.

Softball coach determined to beat cancer with help from team, community and Nation

By Chris Jennings
July 1, 2021

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Native Americans have a higher rate of cancer than white people in the United States. The CDC says the most significant differences in cancer rates between Native American men and white men were found in Alaska, followed by the Southern Plains, Southwest, and Northern Plains.

Regardless of where you live, when a family member is diagnosed with cancer, it hits home. A recent cancer diagnosis for Jimmie Wyrick stopped him in his tracks.

“It’s like the world just kind of stopped,” said Wyrick. Wyrick, the softball coach in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in March of 2021 at the Choctaw Nation Healthcare Center in Talihina.

From the doctors in Talihina and Idabel to the transportation department helping with traveling expenses to Paris, Texas, Wyrick is grateful for all the support he has received.

Wyrick said, “I’m thankful for the Choctaw Nation and everything they’ve done.”

When Wyrick told his softball team about his diagnosis, they were in a state of shock.

“They were very heartbroken for about a week because they thought that I wasn’t going to be with them. I had to explain to them that, hey, this is something I’m going to be able to endure; I’m going to have good days and bad days,” said Wyrick.

After treatments had started, the girls could see that Wyrick was tired. When you have an entire team of young women accustomed to working hard to achieve their goals, you can’t expect them to sit still and watch someone struggle.

Wyrick often tells his girls to button up the chin strap and take their struggles head-on to remain as positive as they can. After the initial shock, that’s just what they did. From getting on the field for practice to carrying gear, Wyrick said he doesn’t need to waste energy to get them to do the things that sometimes require extra prodding when dealing with teenagers.
Jimmie’s mother, Karen Wyrick, said, “They got a little momentum up and said, coach, we’re going to get this. They keep his spirits up.”

Another testament to the team’s tenacity came when they told their coach they were going to win for him.

“They really stepped up and said, hey, we’re good enough to win. Let’s just go win one for coach,” said Wyrick.

And win, they did. Despite Wyrick missing the first three games of the season for treatments, the girls were able to earn a trip to the state finals in Shawnee.

Often, when someone is diagnosed with cancer, it knocks them down, and they have to come from behind to get ahead of the disease. It was no different with the Lady Savages softball team in the state tournament.

Wyrick said, “We’re down eight to one in the first game, we were at risk of getting run-ruled, and then we came back to win nine to eight.”

The other games were no different; the Savages came from behind in every game, finally getting ahead to beat their opponent each time, just as Wyrick is determined to beat his cancer.

Choctaw Nation Councilman Tony Ward, whose daughter also plays on the team, was present at the state tournament.

“They did play for him; they got together as a team. It wasn’t just the all-stars that made the big plays in the tournament; people stepped up. I think that’s one thing that they really don’t realize how, how much they [all the players] elevated their game,” said Ward.

Earlier in the season, the team had shirts with a green lymphoma awareness ribbon made to honor their coach. When girls from the competing teams asked what that was about, the news of Wyrick’s diagnoses spread through the ball fields.

Karen Wyrick said what usually happens when a team loses in the finals is they’ll load up the bus and head home. This year, though, several teams stuck around to see what would happen and support the Savages’ coach.

Karen said, “When it came out he won, there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium.”

Tony Ward said to her that this was meant to be.

Wyrick’s mother said one parent from another team even told her if they had to lose, they were glad it was to Broken Bow.
Wyrick has a simple message that he wishes to pass on to his girls. “I tried to let them see, just because life has dealt you a difficult situation, it doesn’t mean that life is going to stop,” said Wyrick.

With the help of his team, his community and his tribe, Wyrick has buttoned up his chin strap and is ready to face his cancer head-on.