Bear Creek's Dickson: The ultimate fighter
By TIM WATANABE
Redmond Reporter Sports Reporter
January 8, 2009 · Updated 2:25 PM
For all of his life, first-year Bear Creek girls’ basketball coach Alan Dickson has proven to be a fighter off the court as well as on it.
While attending Mishawaka High School in Indiana at age 16, he was diagnosed with acute ulcerative colitis, which caused internal bleeding in the lower digestive tract.
The high school basketball star was advised to give up athletics, but after a six-week hospital stay, the young Dickson never quit playing sports, going on to earn a scholarship to play basketball and football at Butler University.
At age 29, he beat sarcoidosis, the very rare respiratory inflammation disease that claimed the life of NFL defensive end Reggie White, and just five years ago Dickson suffered a massive heart attack during a pick-up basketball game. Only a month and a half later, he was back on the court coaching.
The longtime basketball coach had soundly beaten every physical ailment that he has battled so far, but little did he know that in 2005, he would have to face his toughest foe yet: prostate cancer.
Dickson found out that he had stage-four prostate cancer during the state tournament in 2005 when he was coaching for Monroe High, and that the cancer had spread to his skull. His oncologist’s original prognosis gave him 2-5 years to live.
Both of his parents died from cancer, so Dickson knew he had an uphill battle to climb. But through an improved diet, an overwhelming amount of community support and strong faith, the tide started to turn in Dickson’s favor.
He listened to positive, uplifting music, stuck closely to nutritional and supplement programs and received more than 100 cards from friends and family, while an entire community was left praying for a miracle. His players from the 2004-2005 team even made him a blanket woven together with all of their pictures on it.
“I have faith the God can, through nutrition and just being healthy... help heal you,” Dickson said. “I just made it into a challenge and was really excited when things started turning around.”
At one time, Dickson’s PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) level, a protein produced by the gland that can indicate disorders such as cancer if found in high amounts, was 416 - more than 40 times the amount considered high-risk.
“And then I started getting better,” Dickson said. “It was a miracle from God.”
Although he made it through a life-threatening ordeal, Dickson wanted his experience and testimony to be an inspiration to others. That is why, at age 64, he returned to coaching instead of heading into retirement, which many cancer survivors would have done.
“I got a card just the other day from one of my old players, saying how (beating cancer) really gave her a lot of strength for the rest of her life,” Dickson recalled. “A lot of good has come out this.”
BUILDING THE BEARCATS
Dickson recalls his love for hoops beginning in the seventh grade. Growing up in the inner city outside of South Bend, he was fortunate to have a basketball coach, Mr. Witham, whom he also was able to call a mentor and a friend.
“He really took a special interest in me and worked with me... my parents worked long hours so he counseled me all the time, saying ‘stay away from this group of kids,’” Dickson remembered. “He told me I had a future in basketball and education. He was a great coach, and I thought, ‘I want to do what he does.’”
Dickson has been coaching basketball for most of his adult life. He coached boys’ teams in Detroit and Chicago for 15 years before relocating to Monroe and soon thereafter taking over the girls’ program.
“They asked me to consider the girls’ job, and I didn’t want it at the varsity level,” Dickson said. “I decided to do it and actually fell in love with the women’s game, and got to coach both of my daughters.”
To say that Dickson helped establish the Bearcats’ girls hoops program would be an understatement. In Dickson’s 13 years at the helm, his team made seven appearances at the 4A state tournament, four times bringing home a trophy.
“We had the same staffs, we had a lot of continuity and support from the community,” said Dickson on how he was able to build the Bearcats into a powerhouse. “When we first went to state, we had a parade. The girls had never gone to state and the boys had only gone once around 1950.”
A PERFECT FIT
For a man used to coaching at a big 4A school, the switch to a 2B program was quite the change of pace. In fact, it was just what he needed after taking a year off to focus on his recovery from cancer.
“My wife said I can go back to coaching, but it has to be a small school. She said a small Christian school would be perfect,” Dickson said. “There’s a lot of faith. They bend over backwards to make everything work for me here. The athletic department is excellent.”
Though Dickson feels at home as a Grizzly, his will to win has never faded. He is confident that his girls’ squad can finish strong in the Sea-Tac 2B League despite a string of close losses to open the season and the turnout being just a fraction of what he has been used to at Monroe.
During a fall exhibition tournament, Bear Creek actually beat Aloha High, a 5A prep school out of Oregon with a student body of 2,080.
“I asked their coach if we played their JV, and he goes, ‘No, that was our varsity,’ Dickson said. “The girls were ecstatic. We went down with just five girls, and we played six straight games.”
The longtime coach also said he wants to work closely with the Bear Creek School in developing a strong foundation for the high school program by getting elementary-level kids more involved in the game. Class 4A schools like Redmond have done this successfully through youth camps and feeder schools.
“I’m not worried about the record, I just want to get to the playoffs,” said Dickson on his team’s goals for the 2008-09 season. “To me, it’s more exciting to go to state. You win the league but you don’t go to state - what’s the point?”
Although saddened by last season’s departure of highly successful coach Blake DeYoung, the Grizzlies have welcomed Dickson’s positive attitude and over three decades of coaching history.
“It’s been really good so far. He really knows what he’s talking about and has lots of experience,” said junior forward Tajel Mehta, who is leading the team in scoring with 12 points per game. “We miss (DeYoung) a lot, but Dickson brings a different kind of experience to the game. He knows how to work with people and is getting to know us a lot more.”
“I think we’ve made the transition pretty well,” added junior guard Megan Cheever.
Dickson is confident he can build a strong program at Bear Creek and the players have adapted to his coaching style.
After all — on or off the court — Dickson has overcome every challenge thrown his way.Contact Redmond Reporter Sports Reporter Tim Watanabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 867-0353, ext. 5054.