Chapin rallies behind retired Coach W.F. Sullivan as he battles cancer

Sullivan teaching math in the 70’s. Photos used with permission.

Students at Chapin High School were first taught by W.F. Sullivan in 1970.

Throughout the years, Sullivan went on to teach many generations, and accumulated a total of 46 consecutive years at the school. Learning math from Sullivan was arguably a “right of passage” for Chapin students. He coached football for 30 years, basketball for “20-something” years, and played in the jazz band for 10. Sullivan said he has taught almost every math class offered at the high school, with pre-calculus being his favorite. In 2016 he retired from CHS, but continued to do out-of-school teaching for SAT and ACT prep.

But things changed for him after he left the school.

Sullivan said he could tell around November of 2017 that something was wrong with his health. He was initially given medicine for acid reflux. He said he didn’t want to acknowledge there could be something worse wrong, until he finished the SAT prep season with his current group of students. In April, he was diagnosed with stage 3-4 esophageal cancer.

When the word got out about Sullivan’s diagnosis, many former students began talking about ways they wanted to help. Although Sullivan said he’s not one to enjoy being “in the limelight,” a growing group of his past students are in the midst of putting him just there. CHS class of ’92 graduate Ryan Gordon created a Facebook group to called “Doin’ it for W.F.,” Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend.  He said he wanted to help raise money for Sullivan’s medical bills and create a support group for his former Coach. Gordon said within 48 hours, the group had already acquired 1,200 members.

Many have commented in the group, rallying behind Sullivan. “He’s helped mold Chapin into the town it is today,” said one member. Currently, there are over 1,600 members.

“We’re getting the word out that it’s possible to fight cancer, and I know Coach Sullivan is going to win and beat this thing,” Gordon said. “If anybody can beat it, it’ll be him.” The group has planned an event for Sullivan that will be held June 23, on Beaufort Street in Chapin. “It should be one heck of an event,” said Gordon.

According to Gordon, there will be a stage with live music, a bake sale, food and beer trucks, and an auction. The event has already received multiple sponsors, and Gordon said there will be t-shirts made with Sullivan’s well-known catch phrase, “tough mustard.”

When Sullivan heard he had a group of more than 1,600 former students supporting him, his jaw dropped. “Is that right?” he said. “I’m telling you what, that’s amazing.” Sullivan said he has already received enough cards from students to fill a 30-gallon bag, and he’s read each of them.

“When I get the cards, I just go back to seeing them in the third desk, or the fourth row, and I can see them sitting there. It brings back real good memories,” he said. “It makes you want to live and just fight this cancer to death.”

Sullivan said he is planning on attending the event on the June 23, and hopes he will get the go-ahead from his doctors to be able to shake hands and give hugs. “The students at Chapin through the years have been the best around, and I just want to tell them all the biggest ‘thank you’ anyone could ever say to them,” he said. “You just can’t beat Chapin.”

There is also a gofundme account set up for the coach. Sullivan mentioned that he only wants to accept enough money from the fundraising to cover the remaining balance of his final medical bills. If there is an excess amount, he wants it to be used for SAT and ACT prep classes across the state, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.