Sandies to honor coach, take part in walk against MS
Web posted Monday, April 3, 2000 12:32 p.m. CT
By SHANNA FOUST-PEEPLES
Globe-News Feature Writer
If anyone is ever tempted to start whining when two-a-day football practices get tough under a blinding Panhandle sun, all they have to do is look across the field at Amarillo High School coach Larry Dippel.
Come hell or high water, Dippel is going to make every practice, every scrimmage and every game his football boys suit up for. That the left side of his body has been pummeled by multiple sclerosis is no excuse for him not to show up.
Morgan Ballou, an AHS defensive lineman, rubbed the top of his head and looked away when he was asked what his coach's battle with MS means to him.
"Oh man, if he's able to be out there in the hot sun at practice, then what is there for us to complain about?" Ballou said. "It's like, if Coach Dippel's not going to give up, then why should we? It's never been anything any of us have said to each other really; it's understood."
When their coach walked into the room a week ago, every guy on the team held his breath for just a second.
"He's not real expressive of how he feels," AHS cornerback Matt Brister said about Dippel. "When he came into the room, there was this chalkboard that said to sign up for the MS Walk for Coach Dippel. The paper was already filled up.
"He looked at that and kind of turned around and smiled at us. Boy, when you get a smile from Coach Dippel, you know you're doing something right."
Team members didn't know how Dippel would react to seeing such an outpouring of respect and support for him, Ballou said. After all, the coach tends toward the stoic side, especially when it comes to the subject of his longtime battle with MS.
"He's excited about it," Ballou said. "He's never come out and said he's excited, but I can tell from his facial expressions."
Dippel was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve disease 14 years ago, and his quiet dignity inspires the team, Ballou said.
"Coach Dippel is like a father figure to us," Ballou said. "We're with him almost more than we are our own fathers. He's taken us under his wing, and this is a way of paying him back."
Ballou said he's had no trouble getting players to sign up. So far, he's managed to sign up 45 players to wear their black and gold Sandie football shirts in the Saturday walk.
The Sandie team is one of the bigger walk teams in the local fund-raiser's history, according to information from the Panhandle Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Dippel's face broke into a grin at the mention of his team's dedication to him and their view of him as a father figure.
"It's because I'm so old that they're saying that," Dippel said. "I'm probably older than some of their fathers. I was a little surprised. I didn't ask them to do it. They're good kids. Obviously, it makes you feel good, and I take it as a compliment."
Every year's coaching duties have been a welcome distraction for him from the frustrating symptoms of MS.
"I have some weakness on my left side, in my left arm. There's numbness and tingling, and it's annoying," Dippel said. "But I'm grateful for what I have. One of the most misunderstood things about MS is that there's a whole host of ways it hits certain people."
Dippel, an avid jogger, decided to go to the doctor after he kept tripping on his left foot.
"I had a tingling and a numbness in my left arm and down the left side of my body," Dippel said. "Then, when I was running, my left foot kept dropping, I guess they call it dorsal flexion, but your foot drops, and I kept tripping over it. I couldn't get that left leg up and started tripping .... The tingling is annoying. It's like hitting your funny bone, but it never went away."
He's maintained his mobility with Copaxone, one of the newer MS drugs, Dippel said.
"I guess if there's a positive side to this, it's that I appreciate
what I have because the disease takes all kinds of things away," Dippel
said. "You can have the attitude, and it's probably the right attitude
to have, that 'I'm not gonna let this disease whip me,' but that attitude
is not going to stop a progressing disease. You can't will it away."