For Tuscarora guard James Quinn, the subject of cancer rarely came up during conversations with Will Enten.
Quinn recalls one instance in which Enten divulged some of the challenges he faced as they exchanged text messages while the latter was receiving medical attention in the hospital. But Enten never prefaced a conversation by bringing up any issues he might have.
“That was after he would text me and say, ‘How have you been been?’” Quinn said of Enten, a Tuscarora senior who on Jan. 31 died from alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) — an aggressive form of cancer found more commonly in teens or young adults.
Enten, 18, battled ARMS for four and a half years, and throughout it all, he firmly believed he’d beat cancer. So he constantly zeroed in on achieving his goal of making Tuscarora’s boys varsity basketball team — while also going out of his way to help others.
“Even if he was hurting or in pain or whatever, he would always push through it and try and be positive,” said Tony Enten, Will’s father. “And he was positive for everybody else.”
On paper, Will Enten was into his third year as the Tuscarora basketball team’s manager, but he also actively participated in most noncontact drills, regularly firing up shots with members of the Titans. He was so invested in the team and loved the sport so much that he attended any event associated with the Titans’ basketball program, including summer workouts and camps.
And he was willing to perform any task that needed to be done, showing the selflessness that came across to so many people. During one camp, Tuscarora coach Darryl Whiten recalled, Will Enten volunteered to help Whiten’s wife, Dena, complete various administrative tasks.
While discussing Will Enten at length, Whiten found the need to pause to control his emotions.
“He was a very inspiring, caring, helpful, grateful, very unselfish … individual,” Whiten said. “To talk a little bit about him, it makes you emotional.”
Will Enten was known for being an avid basketball fan, but Tony Enten points out he was quite the attackman for a Carroll Manor Recreation Council lacrosse team before entering high school. One of Will Enten’s teams, Tony Enten said, won a title in the Western Maryland Youth Lacrosse Conference, which includes teams from western Maryland, West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania.
Will Enten wore No. 20, and at the end of his 13-and-under season, he showed his parents a welt on the back of his hand that Tony Enten thought to be a cyst of some sort. But doctors revealed that it was ARMS, which eventually spread across his entire body.
Last May, Will Enten’s doctor feared that his patient was in danger of breaking a femur in one of his legs and advised him to use a wheelchair. For months, according to Tony Enten, Will Enten disregarded his doctor’s advice and would run around basketball courts.
It’s that kind of tenacity that served as inspiration to his teammates. In November, Will Enten became dependent on his wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from contacting Whiten and expressing a desire to shoot.
“When you see a kid that shows up to a workout in a wheelchair, that basically says a lot,” Whiten said. “That just basically says, ‘Whatever it is, nothing’s going to hold me back.’”
Like Will Enten, Whiten believed he could beat cancer, so he set aside a jersey for Will Enten for the appropriate time.
“We always told him, ‘Once you get cleared, you’ve always got a spot on this particular basketball team. You’re special to this basketball team, you’re very inspiring. We have your jersey, No. 20, and that’s going to be yours once you get cleared to play,’” Whiten said.
On Tuesday, as Tuscarora celebrated its Senior Night, the Titans honored Will Enten by displaying a black cardboard No. 20 jersey alongside those of the team’s other six seniors during a ceremony. Tuscarora will have a “Will Strong” night on Feb. 18, when it hosts Martinsburg (West Virginia). During warm-ups, the Titans will wear purple T-Shirts with the words “Will Strong” on the backs.
“[Tony Enten] said his last words were, ‘Go, and win for him,’ because he just wanted to play,” Quinn said. “Every time I play, every time the team plays, we just keep him in our heart and our mind.”