From battling cancer to battling defenses: the Bear Shank story

Around 3 PM on Sunday, April 26, a text was sent to the football and baseball teams, instructing them to meet at the field house for a mandatory meeting at 6 PM. As players gathered, no one knew why they were there. And then they were told that Collin “Bear” Shank -- the beloved quarterback and baseball star -- was in the hospital.

The saga began when Bear experienced pain while playing baseball the preceding Saturday. He went to the doctor and received some sobering news: he had a brain tumor. Sure, there was medical terminology to describe the exact condition, but at the end of the day, he had a brain tumor, and his recovery -- let alone his future athletic career -- was in doubt. The community and his teammates collectively held their breath while Bear awaited surgery.
A photo of Bear in the hospital taken by his
father, Steve Shank
Used by permission

“When I first heard of the news I was shocked. I almost didn't believe it at first,” recalls teammate Chase Pirozzi, a close friend of Bear’s. “I knew he was going to have a tough battle ahead of him. Never once though did I doubt in his ability to overcome whatever was ahead.”

Meanwhile, the community also offered its support for Bear during this waiting period. Two separate posters were signed at school to support Bear, and wristbands emblazoned with “#BearStrong - Mark 12:30” were created and distributed. Two Philadelphia Eagles’ players -- Tim Tebow and Riley Cooper -- even sent Bear a video wishing him luck and offering their support for him. 

May 12 was the day of the surgery, and on that Tuesday, emotions were tense throughout the L-S community. Early in the morning, the surgery began, and it was not until the early afternoon that news on its success arrived: the procedure was a success. Bear’s father reported on Caring Bridge that 95% of the mass was removed, and then doctors proceeded into another surgery to remove the other 5%, confident in their ability to do so with very low risk. Doctors told Bear that the tumor would not spread and that he had a less than 5% chance of the tumor recurring. His left arm had been affected by the surgery and would require rehab, but otherwise he recovered quickly, faster than any other brain tumor patient, according to one nurse. 

Bear later thanked all who supported him, saying on Caring Bridge: "Thank you to everyone who supported my family and I through this time. From the meals, the encouragement, the support, the countless prayers, the doctors and staff at CHOP, and the overwhelming love and care. We can't thank you enough. It has meant so much to my family and I. The support this family received can't be imagined. Thank you all so much! God Bless. MARK 12:30".

With the tumor removed, Bear’s attention turned back to his teammates. Miraculously, doctors cleared him to play football just three months after the surgery.
Bear has been taking snaps for the Pioneers all season long
Photo by Jacky Kirchner, LSNews.org Features Editor
Bear has earned accolade for both his perseverance and leadership. Although Bear and his family did not wish to comment for this story, teammates Garrett Groshong, Chase Pirozzi, Darren Metz, and Kyle Metz did comment, and one theme pervades all their comments: without Bear leading and motivating them they would not be where they are today. 

Senior running back Garrett Groshong called Bear “one tough cookie”, and went on to say: “His leadership makes me a stronger person and challenges me mentally to be a better person and to look forward to things in a positive manner. He's one of the greatest leaders a team could have considering what he's been through and the strength he had to get through it.”
Bear is a revered leader of Pioneer football
Photo courtesy of Mr. Mark Thiboldeaux
All rights reserved: markthiboldeaux.com

Senior tight end Kyle Metz agrees. 

“Having a leader like Bear is unreal,” he says.

Teammates also noted that Bear puts forth unbelievable effort on the field. Another senior, Darren Metz, puts it simply: "Bear is one kid that doesn't take plays off. One kid that puts his heart ... on the field every single night". 

This was exemplified last week when Bear ferociously ripped the ball out of an E-town player’s hands and returned it for a touchdown to seal the game. 

From the vantage point of April 27, 2015, what will happen on October 16, 2015 may seem impossible: Bear Shank will lead the Pioneers onto the field in Manheim to take on the Barons … on his 18th birthday.

It is remarkable that Bear recovered enough to come back and play the game he loves. Joining the 6000 yard club in the LL league is equally impressive, especially considering he is accompanied by NFL quarterback Chad Henne.

But even more remarkable is the fact that less than six months removed from a diagnosis that could have been devastating, Bear Shank is on the field for arguably the biggest game of the Pioneers’ season. 

And when he steps onto the field Friday against Manheim Central, he has the support of all of Lampeter-Strasburg community, but also must feel pressure to do well for those who support him. To say that he has blown by all of the expectations set for him is an understatement, and this Friday will be no different. Good leaders earn respect of those they lead, but Bear has also earned the respect of everyone around him, and now he seeks to lead the L-S community to football victory.

--Kevin Reed, LSNews.org Football Reporter and Benjamin Pontz, LSNews.org Editor-In-Chief

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