The first warm Sunday of March had Madeline Mayfield itching to run. The junior on the Lady Bears’ basketball and track teams came out to Mount Airy high school with her mother and assistant coach, Angela, hoping to dust off the cob webs and get prepared for another banner season.
It was just like any other Sunday at the school. There were only a few people at the athletic complex. Baseball coach Jon Cawley was there working on the diamond, but out on the practice football field, there was a lone soul riding on the lawn mower.
Coach Mayfield couldn’t believe her eyes. It was athletic director Donald Price, doing about the only thing he could to keep his mind from going stir crazy. After going through chemotherapy treatment for his pancreatic cancer from Wednesday until Saturday, Price couldn’t sit idly by and watch a beautiful day disappear.
Instead, he was out there at Mount Airy High School, working on the field he’s patrolled for 23 years as the offensive line coach of the Granite Bears. Aside from his family, the love and pride he has for Mount Airy sports serves as a key motivation as he continues to fight the cancer cells in his body.
“Coach Mayfield just asked me what the heck was I doing out there,” Price said. “I don’t know. It’s my stubbornness, I guess. One of the track coaches asked me to get someone to mow it, and I just showed up and did it.”
Coach Price attributes this stubbornness to his childhood as an orphan and spending the molding years of life with only his sister as a lone guardian. Everyone around Mount Airy High couldn’t imagine their athletic director any other way, as he enters the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.
It’s what makes him the special man that received unrelenting support from the city when he learned he had cancer, and it’s what drives him to work as hard as he does despite the sickness.
“I’m blessed beyond imagination to be in this community,” said Price, fighting through thankful tears. “The fundraisers, the prayers, the calls, the cards, the conversations, the people that brought me meals when I have my chemo. I can’t repay the people who have supported me enough.”
Coach Price arrived at Mount Airy in the summer of 1993. The school hired him in the Career and Technical Education Program and to serve as an assistant football coach to David Diamont, the current man in charge at East Surry.
Before becoming the Granite Bear that he is today, Price attended Monroe High School just outside of Charlotte and earned his college degree at Appalachian State University. He walked on to the Mountaineer football team as a long-snapper his junior year, and graduated from Boone in 1985.
After college, he moved to Italy to coach American football in Europe. That experience made Price realize he wanted to be a football coach for the rest of his life.
“It was a really fun and educational time in my life,” Coach Price said. “Connecting with the players was a great feeling, but it also made me realize I wanted to have an impact on the lives of kids.”
His stint in Europe lasted a few years before moving on to Lees-McRae College. His desire to work with kids continued to grow there, and it was an easy decision for Price to begin his high school coaching career at Mount Airy.
“I wanted to work at a school that had a high standard of being successful,” Price said. “Being successful doesn’t mean winning state championships, though. It means producing good citizens and having teams and players that you’re proud of ten years after they left.”
Of course, Price and the Granite Bears won their fair share of football games as well. He’s been in charge of the offensive line under three head coaches who all loved to run the football in Diamont, Eddie Cobb and Kelly Holder. A lot of Mount Airy’s success has hinged on Price’s ability to help the offense control the trenches.
Price was successful with an old-school mentality. His boisterous and demanding personality on the football field brought the best out of his players, and the Bears have won nine conference titles and one state championship with Price on the coaching staff.
That state title came in 2008, but Coach Price can’t think of that historical moment without mentioning the failure he experienced next season. After defeating Williamston 37-14 in 2008, the Bears couldn’t repeat as champions in a 38-37 overtime loss to Wallace-Rose Hill in 2009.
“I still think about that game. Things just didn’t bounce our way, and it’s still tough to believe we lost,” Price said.
But Coach Price’s legacy at Mount Airy immensely overshadows the haunting feeling from defeat in 2009. He’s sent players on to college to play football, he coached the softball team for a brief stretch in the early 2000s and his accomplishments since being named Athletic Director in 2003 have diversified Mount Airy’s success in sports across a variety of programs.
“That is something that I am extremely proud of,” Price said. “When I took the job as AD, I wanted to make sure I spent the same amount of focus I give to the football team on all of our sports. I think coaching softball for a little while helped me do that.”
Since he became the Athletic Director, Mount Airy has won 38 team conference championships, 34 individual state championships and eight team state championships. Sports such as soccer, golf, tennis and swimming have seen upticks in success and interest across the community.
But now there is a new fight in Coach Price’s life, and it doesn’t involve Mount Airy sports. Coach Holder struggled to watch Price deal with the pain in his stomach as the two friends watched football one Sunday afternoon. Holder forced Price to call a doctor on Dec. 6, and Price was diagnosed with the cancer on Dec. 14.
His original scan found more than 570 cancer cells in Price’s body, but the coach is making progress today. At his last scan four weeks ago, the cancer cells had officially lessened to 182.
The fight is not over, and as Price enters the Hall of Fame on Sunday, he will be coming off his latest chemo treatment. The road to get rid of the cancer in his body will still be a steep climb, but the man who has had such an impact on Mount Airy sports and the athletes in the Granite City has his eyes fixed on Friday nights at Wallace Shelton Stadium this fall.
“I told them when I first got sick, whatever we got to do to fix it, we’re going to do it,” Price said. “Let’s be aggressive. Because since December I’ve been telling the doctors that come August 1st, I am going to be standing on that football field and we are going to be running offensive line drills like I always have.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16