First and long - Titan athlete’s fight against cancer still inspiring teammates

Phillip Brents

Thu August 27, 2015 7:25pm

Dean K.

The Eastlake High School baseball team concluded the spring season with a second-place finish in the San Diego Section Division I championship playoffs. It was the third division championship game appearance for the Titans in school history. Though Eastlake finished runner-up following a 10-6 loss to Poway, it was nevertheless a very special season to remember.
If the Titans needed any extra inspiration, they need only look into the dugout after dedicating their season to teammate Dean Klaser, who was diagnosed with cancer prior to the season. Klaser was the kid — the kid without hair — who motivated his teammates to win — win for him, win for each other.
It became a magical ride that carried the Titans all the way to the Division I championship game. EHS baseball coach Dave Gallegos called the team’s championship quest “for Dean, the team and the school.”
“Amazing” is the first word that Klaser could come up with to describe the season. As the football season rolls around, Klaser is still inspiring teammates. The Eastlake football team, of which Klaser is also a member, has dedicated its first home game of the 2015 season, Aug. 28 against La Serna, to him.
“We will miss Dean a lot this year,” Titan head football coach Lee Price explained. “He was a two-way returning starter and has Division I college talent. He is still part of this team, and he will be an inspiration for us because of his strength and optimism. We are praying for his recovery and look forward to him getting back to school and athletics as soon as he can.”
Klaser, a standout football/baseball player at the east side Chula Vista school, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer soon after the 2014 football season ended. It was devastating to Klaser and his family, and also for his teammates. When coaches informed members of the baseball team about Klaser’s medical situation, Titan players immediately rallied support for their stricken teammate by dedicating the 2015 season to him.
“When we told the team, they were very sad, very heart-broken, emotions came out,” Gallegos recalled. “Many of the parents told me that their kids went home and locked themselves in their rooms and cried.” But feeling sorry wasn’t part of the prescription for recovery.
A few weeks into the baseball season, team members — all of them, Gallegos pointed out — shaved their heads in a show of solidarity and unwavering support for their friend who had lost his own hair due to chemotherapy treatments.
“That was really cool,” Klaser explained, obviously touched by the gesture. “It showed I have 100 percent support from my teammates in what I am going through. It shows I have great teammates I can always count on.”
Coaches and players also wore special wristbands emblazoned with #titanstrong#win on one side and DH33, Klaser’s initials and jersey number, on the other side. Doctors decided to take an aggressive stance against Klaser’s cancer. He initially underwent surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed and are expected to last into the coming year. It’s been a long uphill fight for Klaser and his teammates — one that won’t end anytime soon.
Road to recovery
Klaser was a member of the Titans’ 2013 CIF championship team and was a first team all-league selection last season. That he won’t be playing football this fall has weighed heavily on him.
“At first I thought my treatments weren’t going to be as long as they have become and I thought I was going to be able to play football this year,” he said. “But the treatments became longer and, when I found out I wasn’t going to be able to play football after all, I was devastated.”
However, as Klaser has journeyed into unknown territory, he continually makes new discoveries. He admitted his spirits were greatly lifted after participating in Rady Children’s Hospital’s 20th annual Celebration of Champions event in May — an outpouring of love, compassion and caring for children battling cancer.
“Every patient ran a lap,” Klaser said. “It was cool to see all the other cancer patients going through the same things and staying strong like I’m trying to do.”
He said participation in sports has helped him prepare for the difficulties he is now facing. “Both the physical and mental parts of it help push you through when you’re having a bad day,” he explained. “It helps me push through and stay strong.” Receiving support from others has proven to be the best medicine.
“My goals are still to go to some college and play football and get an education somewhere,” he said. Where there is life, there is hope.