The noble death for a West Pointer is to perish in battle. In peacetime, he's supposed to father the next generation of military leaders, serve his country and fade away.
Twenty-year-old cadets are not supposed to get sick. In fact, they are expected to be the picture of health. Height, weight, vision and hearing are all factors taken into careful consideration for those who enter West Point. A candidate can be disqualified for unfilled cavities, asthma or an ulcer. To be injured in battle or even on the football field is acceptable, even heroic. But weakness and coughing and fighting for breath are not proper symptoms for a cadet. Pain may come by way of shrapnel or maybe a crackback block but not from something inside a cadet's own body.
Cancer has not cooperated with those expectations. In the past 17 years, there have been five cases of cancer, none of them fatal, among members of the Army football team: Jack Roth, 1971, Hodgkin's lymphoma; Bob Johnson, 1974, bone cancer; Rich Baxter, 1985, testicular cancer; Shultz, 1986, Hodgkin's lymphoma; and Babb, 1987, testicular cancer.
This high incidence of cancer has raised the possibility of there being cancer-causing environmental factors in the West Point area. To the Army's credit, it has investigated the matter fully. "We looked at it," says Barry Wolcott, chief medical officer at the academy. "We'd have been crazy not to look." Thus far, there doesn't seem to be any obvious cause for the cancer at West Point.
In fact, the three types of cancer that have been contracted by the cadets are among those most often found in their segment of the population, making it unlikely that an environmental factor unique to the academy is the cause. Had the five cadets contracted a rare form of cancer, there would be much more cause for concern. Says Dr. Chad Helmick, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta: "These are relatively common types of cancer among young adult men. Among young white males in the U.S., Hodgkin's and testicular are two of the three most common cancers."
Fortunately for Schultz and Babb, Hodgkin's lymphoma and testicular cancer are also two of the more treatable kinds of cancer. Both stricken cadets have recovered. The likelihood of recurrence is relatively low.
Twice within a year, Coach Young was forced to call meetings to tell his players that one of their teammates had cancer. "I never had to tell a team that before," Young says. "They were shocked. You just don't expect that to happen to a young man."
Shultz had completed the radiation treatments and was back in school by the time Young told the team about Babb. "Right away everybody came running to me," says Shultz, who had fought his way back to second-string offensive tackle by then. "They asked me, 'What are the doctors going to do? How's he going to turn out?' "
Babb was a sophomore when Young told the team that Shultz had cancer. Babb didn't know him well. "I was pretty far down on the totem pole, getting run over every day with the jayvee," he says. "You don't get to know the guys. We're so busy, we have so much to do. But yeah, you do step back and say, 'God, I don't want that to be me.' "
Both Shultz and Babb were determined not only to return to West Point but also to play football again. Shultz came back in February 1987, and started lifting weights and running. "I knew that if I got away from football for more than a few months, I wouldn't play again," he says.