A day for Rob: Community backs Wildcat leader in tough time

   Back in November the plans were simple for Rob Irwin.
   As head coach, it was his only purpose to get the state ranked Whitko Wildcats to a sectional championship and possibly much more.
   Within the last two weeks, that purpose got benched and the focus was turned to another battle for Irwin — one that came off the court.
   What started as a routine visit to his family doctor on Dec. 20 found a low white blood cell count. Follow up lab tests revealed that Irwin suffered from a treatable form of leukemia that affects the lymphocytes or  white bloods in him.
   For the next month, Irwin will be fighting his way back to remission. Irwin has been undergoing an intense seven-day chemotherapy treatment at Lutheran Hospital that, according to an online journal kept by his wife Anne, finished up over the weekend.
   As family awaited his arrival home Monday, friends and colleagues have been following the day-to-day progress of Irwin, who also is the athletic director at Whitko.
   Over 2,200 visitors have gone to www.caringbridge.com/robirwin leaving tributes, encouraging comments and prayers for the beloved coach.
   The website requires an e-mail address and password setup. A search for “robirwin” will take you to his page where the coach and his family talk more about his story and how his treatment is going.
   In his first game away, the class 3A No. 4 state ranked Whitko Wildcats continued on in his honor clinching a share of the Three Rivers Conference title at North Miami Friday night 64-51.
   Battling a serious disease didn’t slow down Irwin’s basketball mind. After the win, interim head coach Mike Kline paid Irwin a visit in the hospital.
   According to the journal “Of course Mike was at Lutheran promptly after the game so Rob could watch the tape. They hashed everything out and Rob promptly began crafting a practice plan for Monday.”
   The diagnosis has not changed Irwin when it comes to the court. The head coach that some call ‘Robbie Big Time’ is still the aggressive eyed Wildcat that he’s always been. But in his own words, Irwin says it’s helped in other ways.
   “It’s funny how something everyone thinks is a bad thing might just turn out to be the best thing…This is just another opportunity to see what I have learned. Thank you all for being a part of something that will  make me better in more ways than one.”
   The messages have poured in for Irwin. From former players to fellow coaches, the six-man of support is pulling for Irwin to reach his goal and be back my sectional in early March.
   “You have always been a winner and with God on your team that is not going to change,” former Columbia City head coach Wayne Kreiger said.
   “You are in our thoughts and prayers at Tippecanoe Valley. Stay strong and hope to see you back on the Wildcat bench soon.” Duane Burkhart said.
   “God works in amazing ways. Know that I pray for you and your family,” Darcy and Steve Hoopingarner said.
   The support continues Saturday with the Wildcats senior night game against Manchester. Along with honoring the senior players, the day has been dubbed Rob Irwin Day at Whitko High School.
   Dinner, fundraisers and more are being put on in Rob’s named with all proceeds going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The student council will be making collections during the afternoon game. The   community is encouraged to come out in support of Rob Irwin and the research fighting his disease.
   Junior varsity begins at 1 p.m. with varsity following. The Whitko football program will be serving dinner at 4:30 p.m. along with raising proceeds.