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Spartan survivor

Eric Hoffman has faced more challenges than the average high school junior. Just days before his 11th birthday, he learned he had a brain tumor. Three years later, as he was beginning eighth grade, Hoffman was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a...

Eric Hoffman has faced more challenges than the average high school junior.

Just days before his 11th birthday, he learned he had a brain tumor. Three years later, as he was beginning eighth grade, Hoffman was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

"I wasn't really scared as much as everyone else around me was," Hoffman said. "I was kind of the one to keep everyone together. My family worried a lot and I told them it would be alright; everything was going to work out fine. It would be a hard time for a while, but we'd pull through it."

Hoffman received chemotherapy and radiation treatment for about nine months when he was 14 years old. Today, he is free of cancer.

"My friends were great support. I don't think I could have done it without them," Hoffman said. "They were always there. I always took someone with me to chemo and we had a pizza party up at the hospital."

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Hoffman is still surrounded by friends, many of whom know him through basketball.

"Everybody's friends with him," said Phil Roe, coach of the Superior High School junior varsity basketball team. "The one thing that I've learned from him is he looks at everything with a positive outlook, and that's really the way people should live their lives."

Hoffman has been playing basketball since he was in fourth grade. He said it is by far his favorite sport and holds a special place in his life.

"My dad (Ron) used to be a big basketball player. He used to play in college and had a chance to go to Europe and play," Hoffman said. "He introduced me (to basketball) in fourth grade and ever since then I've loved it. It's always been a big passion."

When Hoffman was younger, his father coached him on various teams. In fact, when Hoffman was battling cancer, his father was his basketball coach. Throughout the ordeal, Hoffman refused to let his illness keep him from the sport he loved.

"I would go to practices and usually do as much as they would, but I couldn't play according to the doctor because I had a catheter in me," Hoffman said. "But I did most everything they did except for the weeks of the chemo."

Hoffman underwent chemotherapy treatment twice every month for eight to nine months. He missed about half a year of schooling because of the treatments, yet Hoffman did not quit basketball and insisted he was able to keep up with his teammates.

"I didn't want any special treatment," he said. "I didn't like to be any different from everybody else."

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The next year, as a freshman, Hoffman continued to play basketball. He said the members of the freshman team were nearly all friends, but the group spread out to different teams when the players became sophomores. Hoffman and some of his classmates played on the "C" team while others played on the JV or varsity teams.

As a junior, Hoffman wished to reunite with his friends.

"I just wanted to be with the team because all of my friends are on the JV and varsity now," Hoffman said. "I decided to be with them this year just by managing, doing something."

Hoffman asked varsity head coach Dave Kontny if he could be a manager for the team, and Kontny agreed. But the SHS coach had an additional stipulation.

"When I called him up I said, 'Listen, how about I give you practice stuff and you come to practice every day. You'll officially be our manager, and you'll go through all the drills and work at getting better,'" Kontny said. "He has not missed a practice since the first day he came."

As a manager, Hoffman takes care of the shot chart and other statistics on game days. During the rest of the week, he practices with the team just like any other player.

"It's fun to be with them, to go traveling with them. It's a fun experience," Hoffman said.

On Feb. 2 Hoffman added to his experience, as he played in his first JV game when the Spartans took on Denfeld.

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"I had four guys out for various reasons," coach Roe said. "One kid got chicken pox. Who gets chicken pox in high school, right?"

With the depleted roster, only seven players were suited up for the game, so Roe asked Hoffman if he would play to help the team.

"I was thinking in my head that I wanted to get him some playing time all along." Roe said. "But this kind of fell in, and it ended up being a good opportunity for everyone because I really needed the extra body."

For Kontny, the decision to have Hoffman suit up for the JV game was also easy.

"The last couple of games we decided that he's earned an opportunity to see some playing time in the JV games," Kontny said. "He's just a great kid. He's got a great work ethic. He's all about what team means, and that's what we want to do here."

So Hoffman got his opportunity, and he did not disappoint.

"He played very well. He played good defense," Roe said. "I put him in right away in the second half, and then when we got a comfortable lead with about three minutes left I called a time out."

Roe set up a play, running Hoffman through a triple screen to set up a shot at the arc. True to Hoffman's wishes, though, Denfeld didn't give him any special treatment. The Denfeld defender broke through the screens quickly and left Hoffman no space at the perimeter to shoot.

Play continued and another minute ticked off the clock. Superior maintained its press on Denfeld and then came up with an unexpected steal. The Spartans passed the ball down the floor and found Hoffman open at the arc.

"Nothing but net," Roe said.

"It seemed like nothing to me, but everybody made it seem like a big deal," Hoffman said of hitting the 3-pointer. "The team was going crazy on the bench, and it was really cool."

"Everyone was jumping up and down, and the crowd behind us, everybody from Superior knew how special a moment that really was," Roe said. "Just looking at his story, I think it's an inspiration for the players and coaches on this team. He obviously has a strong will with all of the stuff that he had to overcome at a young age, and he shows maturity beyond his age. So when he got his moment to shine, everybody was just really happy for him."

Hoffman said next year he hopes to stay with the Spartan basketball program, which has meant much to him.

"I'd say it's pretty far our there. I would put it behind my friends and family, but I like it a lot," he said. "I have had a lot of fun this year."

For Roe, it will also be a year he won't forget.

"He (Hoffman) gave me a hug at the end of the game, and it was definitely the highlight of my coaching career," Roe said. "That's the reason you coach is kids like him. He's just a great young man."

Emily Kram covers sports. Call her at 395-5018 or e-mail ekram@superiortelegram.com .

Related Topics: BASKETBALLHOFFMAN
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