Longtime fixture of Indiana high school's sports scene batting 'fastest-growing human tumor'

Photo: Amber Shultz

Longtime fixture of Indiana high school's sports scene batting 'fastest-growing human tumor'

High School Sports

Longtime fixture of Indiana high school's sports scene batting 'fastest-growing human tumor'

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One day, he stood in the rays of sunshine on the track, tucked between the farm fields that blanket eastern Hancock County.

The intense, teddy bear of a leader Clayton Shultz — varsity track coach, football defensive coordinator, middle school basketball coach.

He was a standout athlete himself back in the 1990s, South All-Star in football as an offensive lineman, a basketball player who regularly recorded double-doubles.

Coach Shultz, Shultzy they call him, the literal face for more than 30 years of Eastern Hancock (Charlottesville, Indiana) sports was standing in the sunshine.

The next day…he was gone.

“All of sudden, he wasn’t here one day,” said Aaron Spaulding, Eastern’s athletic director and varsity basketball coach.

Eastern Hancock’s Clayton Shultz (left) is battling a rare and aggressive form of cancer called Burkitt lymphoma. On right is longtime friend Andy Williams. (Photo: Provided by Andy Williams)

Shultz came back, but not the same. Spaulding asked him a couple of times, “How’s  it going?”  “You OK?”

“I’m just not feeling very good,” Shultz would tell him.

Doctors thought it was pancreatitis. But Shultz’ 6-5, massive body, couldn’t kick it. He wasn’t responding to the treatments. He wasn’t bouncing back.

It wasn’t pancreatitis.

What had overtaken Shultz’s  body was an extremely rare, highly aggressive cancer called Burkitt lymphoma. It is considered the fastest-growing human tumor in existence.

Since he was diagnosed last week, there have been dark times in the hospital when the family wasn’t sure their coach would make it to morning.

But he did.

And now, they wait to see if this man who has always wanted the win can pull off his biggest victory yet.

‘A heart of gold’

It is easy for the kids to look up to Shultz. Most of them have to. He’s huge.

But the kids look up to Shultz, 41, for all the reasons that have nothing to do with size or sports, said Cory Rainbolt, Eastern’s head volleyball coach and assistant athletic director.

His love for his family, coaching and the school system he’s rooted in — and his heart of gold, she said.

“Shultzy is not only my son’s coach, but a friend and co-worker. He is an amazing person,” Rainbolt said. “I can’t tell you how many boys look up to this man, including my own.”

He can be daunting on the court, on the field and on the track, and he is intense, said Spaulding, who has known Shultz since 1999.

“But off the court, he’s like a big teddy bear,” he said. “He swallows the kids up when he puts his arms around them.”

And he does that a lot. He is, after all, known as a gentle giant.

‘He is fighting it’

Shultz had been having abdominal pain and inflammation that just wouldn’t go away. Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which starts in immune cells called B-cells, can cause gastrointestinal problems, according to WebMD.

“Burkitt lymphoma is associated with impaired immunity and is rapidly fatal if left untreated,” the web site says. In the United States, about 1,200 people are diagnosed with the disease each year, about 60% of them 40 years or older.

While the cancer is considered “the fastest-growing human tumor,” there is room for hope: Intensive chemotherapy can result in long-term survival for more than half the people with the cancer, the site says.

Amber Shultz says they are fighting her husband’s cancer as a family. (Photo: Amber Shultz)

For Shultz, there have been more tough days than good days since the diagnosis, said Spaulding.

Shultz’s  wife, Amber, has been using Facebook to chronicle her husband’s battle, including an emotional post on May 30.

“After a week and countless tests and not knowing anything, yesterday we received a confirmed diagnosis that anyone would dread. Today, our final biopsy came back and changed the diagnosis to a higher grade more aggressive type. Clayton has cancer. To be specific, we (we fight as a family and he won’t be doing this alone) have Non Hodgkin’s High Grade Burkitt Lymphoma.”

Shultz, who has three children, Connor, Zachary, and Abigail, will undergo a treatment plan that includes six months of chemo, eight rounds, to start.

“We are moving into uncharted territory very quickly but we do know that cancer picked the wrong family to mess with,” Amber Shutlz posted. “We ask that if you have experiences that you only share positive ones at this time as we are already scared and are really choosing to remain optimistic and lean on God. My sweet gentle giant will be here to watch our grandchildren grow up, we just have some mountains to climb first.”

Spaulding, who has been visiting Shultz at the hospital, said the past few days have been better than the ones before. While the beloved coach is concerned and scared, he’s managed to keep a sense of humor and has been joking with visitors.

“He was in good spirits, all things considered,” Spaulding said. “He is fighting it and, hopefully, he will come out on the other side.”

A logo has been created for coach Clayton Shultz’ fight with cancer. (Photo: Submitted photo)

Spaulding, who has been visiting Shultz at the hospital, said the past few days have been better than the ones before. While the beloved coach is concerned and scared, he’s managed to keep a sense of humor and has been joking with visitors.

“He was in good spirits, all things considered,” Spaulding said. “He is fighting it and, hopefully, he will come out on the other side.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP

— A gofundme account has been started on Clayton Shultz’s behalf:  https://www.gofundme.com/shultz-strong

— T-Shirts supporting Shultz can be purchased: https://ehroyalswrestling.itemorder.com/sale?read_message=true

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Longtime fixture of Indiana high school's sports scene batting 'fastest-growing human tumor'
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