Santa Margarita High football coach Harry Welch, right, stands by his daughter Lisa St. John as he explains to his team that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. His family attended the announcement on Monday.

O.C. football coach Harry Welch has prostate cancer

The Santa Margarita coach, who won state titles at two schools, hopes to alert his players to the dangers of the disease.


Santa Margarita football coach Harry Welch has prostate cancer and will undergo surgery for it during the upcoming football season.

Welch, 65, said his doctor, after initial exams, suggested a biopsy was needed and the biopsy revealed the cancer. A meeting with a specialist Tuesday will inform Welch of more details on the surgery and post-surgery treatment.

Welch revealed his diagnosis to the Register on Sunday night on the condition that it not be made public until he told his team Monday afternoon.

"The doctor said if we do the surgery now, I have a 90 percent chance of beating it," said Welch, in his first season coaching at Santa Margarita after winning multiple CIF section and state titles elsewhere. "So we're probably looking at dealing with this real soon."

Welch, who interrupted a team weight-training session Monday to inform Santa Margarita players of his situation, said he was committed to continue coaching this season, within reason. He would prefer that the surgery occur Oct. 4, the Monday after Santa Margarita plays Los Alamitos – which also is the Monday of the Eagles' bye week. Welch accepts that will not be his call, but would like to take as little time away from the team as possible.

"If we have to do a procedure at halftime of a game, that's what I'll do," he said. "I won't bail out on these young men on the team and on my assistant coaches. On the other hand, I would be a poor role model if I said I'm willing to risk my life for football."

Welch has a 222-49-2 record amassed over coaching jobs at Canyon of Canyon Country and at St. Margaret's. He coached Canyon to five CIF-Southern Section championships. His three years at St. Margaret's – 2007-09 – produced three CIF-SS titles. Welch is the only coach in CIF State history to coach two different teams to state championships, first in 2006 at Canyon and then in '08 at St. Margaret's.

He told Santa Margarita players of the potential side effects of the surgery and recovery. Welch explained to the players about the possibility of impotence and incontinence.

"Incontinence, that's an awful word for a macho football coach and for these macho football players," Welch said. "And impotency, that's difficult for these young boys in this part of their lives when they have so much testosterone running through their bodies, the thought of losing this is difficult to think about or accept."

But Welch felt that being honest with the players, and giving wider publicity to prostate cancer and that men should be vigilant about getting screened for it, is important.

"If I can make an inroad here and save one boy's relationship with his father, or a father with his son," he said, "or if I can make one inroad that a grandfather or an uncle sees a graduation or goes on another vacation with his children, this is all worth it."

Welch knows he is putting some pressure on himself with his public battle.

"I need to be successful here," he said. "If I put it out here and try to be a role model here, then I need this surgery to be successful, this follow-up to be successful. I need everything to work out well, so that people say, 'Hey, this is a no-brainer, I've got to get myself checked and do the right thing. Then I'm going to be healthy and have many more years with my family.'"

And if he is not successful ...

"Then I need to be strong, have my family with me and I need the boys to know, hey, this is part of life, too," said Welch, who was accompanied by his wife Cindee, two daughters and his grandchildren.

Santa Margarita senior football player Kyle McPherson was impressed by his coach's courage and candor.

"He's still coming in here, that's very impressive," said McPherson, an offensive lineman. "This makes me want to play even harder for him."

Welch has undergone a heart procedure and four surgeries to repair vocal cords over the past four years, but still has not missed a game or seemed affected in any way by his recent medical history.

Sean Coen played for Welch at Canyon of Canyon Country, then was an assistant coach with Welch at St. Margaret's before moving on to Santa Margarita with him earlier this year. Coen plans on making sure that Welch does indeed follow doctor's orders.

Welch accepted an offer to coach at Santa Margarita on Jan. 21. The Eagles open their first season under Welch on Sept. 3 against Diamond Ranch of Pomona, but they were under scrutiny shortly after he was hired.

The CIF-SS office investigated a Santa Margarita open house, held March 31, at which Welch was one of the hosts, and the section concluded that it was a football-specific open house. That is a violation of the CIF-SS undue influence rule. The CIF-SS office and Santa Margarita disagreed initially on what type of penalty should be imposed upon Welch and soon came to an agreement, but the nature of the penalty has not been revealed.

Welch said he has served the penalty, but would not specify what that involved.

Now, Welch is focused on the upcoming games and his personal battle, and sharing how the battle goes with others.

"This transcends anything that we do in the weight room, that we do on that field, that we do running sprints or catching footballs or making tackles or blocks," he said. "This could be more important than any lesson plan I ever made. I hope it is."

University football coach Mark Cunningham was diagnosed with throat cancer his past spring. He has undergone chemotherarpy, and continues his recovery with hopes of returning to coaching in October. Kevin McCaffrey is interim head coach until Cunningham's return.

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