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Greg DeVillers / Forum Communications Co., Published May 16 2010

Berrys' real battle is off the field: Mayville State coach's wife is fighting cancer for a third time

MAYVILLE, N.D. – As Scott Berry walked through Paula’s Cafe, the first three men he passed reached out to shake his hand and talk baseball. Ten feet farther along and it was more of the same – a handshake, a congratulations and talking baseball.

This city has seen a lot of sports success, at both the high school and college levels, through the years. And the latest is the Berry-coached Mayville State baseball team, which won the Dakota Athletic Conference tournament Wednesday to earn a berth in this week’s NAIA nationals.

“Mayville has always been wonderful in that way,” Berry said of the well-wishers. “At the college, downtown, the gas station – it’s been like that. People are wonderful and supportive.

“But win or lose, it’s a game. It (winning) isn’t as important to me as it was a year ago. I’m competitive; I don’t like to lose. But I have a different perspective.”

That’s because while the game of baseball goes on for the Comets, Berry and his family have been dealt the reality of life. His wife, Laurie, has been battling cancer in her brain and in her chest since last summer.

The first symptoms were noticed last July – watery eyes, headaches and issues with her motor skills. When Laurie became forgetful in August and was struggling on steps, they went to a doctor who discovered the cancer. It was a too-familiar diagnosis for Laurie, who first battled breast cancer in 1993, then had cancer in her hip and spine in 2008.

“It’s been quite the ride,” Scott said, fighting back tears as he spoke of his wife’s latest health issues. “It hasn’t been a fun one. It’s been hard on Laurie. It changes you, too, as a person, a man, a husband. I think I’m a better man, a better coach, because of it.

“From a competitive standpoint, you keep thinking you can beat it. My wife is a fighter. We don’t know what will be the result. Nobody has told us it’s terminal. But we know cancer has a mind of its own. It’s very unpredictable.”

Scott didn’t consider stepping aside from his coaching this spring.

The 54-year-old says it is not only a job he loves, but also a diversion. The diamond, however, is not an escape. There is no getting away from the condition of his wife, who spends most of her time on a recliner in the living room of the family’s two-story home here.

“You really can’t get away from it. And I don’t want to,” Scott said. “I’m into the games when we’re playing. But she’ll call me in the middle of the games. Sometimes, she’ll have a story to tell me. Sometimes it’s trying to remember something about her medicine.”

Because of her health, Laurie, 53, has been able to make only a few trips to watch her sons – Alex, a junior on the Mayville State team, and Christian, a senior on the May-Port-CG High School team – play this spring.

When she has gone to the park, she’s had a good view. Scott drives the family’s car into the bullpen area, where his wife watches.

“It’s hard,” Laurie said. “You don’t mind so much missing the games of the kids who aren’t your own. But you really want to be there to support your own kids. And being that it is Christian’s last high school season, it’s especially difficult.”

Greg DeVillers is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.