Leetonia’s Selway beats cancer, leads Bears back to Division VI playoffs


Leetonia’s Josh Selway has the Bears back in the D-VI playoffs despite battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Photo by Gary Housteau)

  A small lump became big news in a small town.
  “Some people hear one thing and it escalates into something else and then there’s a bunch of stuff going around that’s not true,” Josh Selway said. “Some people had me buried and in the grave after two weeks.”
  Those who know Selway know not to bet against him. Now cancer knows that, too.

The following article is an excerpt from the latest issue of Ohio High Magazine. Ohio High, the only publication of its kind in the state, is printed four times a year and dedicated to bringing Ohio high school sports fans more than the norm. In addition to football, basketball and wrestling previews for the regular and postseasons and recruiting news, Ohio High also features stories on Ohio’s top players, coaches and programs. We also focus on stories of substance and this qualifies. It should be noted before you continue reading that Josh Selway and his Leetonia teammates take on host Mogadore Saturday in a Division VI regional quarterfinal at 7 p.m.

LEETONIA – A small lump became big news in a small town.

“Some people hear one thing and it escalates into something else and then there’s a bunch of stuff going around that’s not true,” Josh Selway said. “Some people had me buried and in the grave after two weeks.”

Those who know Selway know not to bet against him. Now cancer knows that, too.

A senior at tiny Leetonia High School in Columbiana County, Selway is enjoying his final football season as the Bears captain. A standout in all phases of the game, Selway never leaves the field – ever. He’s the kick returner, holder, punter, quarterback and free safety. Selway is even the safety on the kickoff team. He’d stay on the field at halftime to direct the band, too, if they let him and after you hear his story you’ll know why.

Last year, Selway was tackled for a loss and not by an opposing player. Selway was sacked by cancer. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to be exact.

“It was a bad day, a dark day for Leetonia,” senior teammate Andrew Trummer said. “When we found out Josh had cancer it was real quite throughout the whole town.”

Now there’s reason to cheer.

A year after being diagnosed with the disease, Selway is back under center and out of the hospital. He’s been given a clean bill of health – and a different outlook on life.

“It’s one of the weirdest things you can tell someone, but I’m glad I had cancer,” Selway said. “It teaches you so much as far as life goes. You like to think that you’re a strong person and that you can handle obstacles that come your way, but this really tests you. Obviously I’m glad this happened to me other than one of my friends. I hope I was able to show some leadership through it and show that I was able to handle it well. ”

Selway handled the hurdle much like he does the football and basketball – successfully.

A two-sport standout who started varsity in both sports since the first day of school his freshman year, Selway entered his junior football season last fall with lofty expectations. Not only were the Bears set up for an Inter Tri-County League title run, but rumors around town had the team going deep into the playoffs. Those rumors turned to the serious nature before the first kickoff.

In June 2007, Selway said one of his friends noticed a lump on the right side of his neck. He thought nothing of it. His mother wasn’t so sure.

“She’s a nurse so it raised some red flags with her,” Selway said. “We went to our family doctor and he put me on antibiotics for two weeks but the lump didn’t go away and got bigger. Then we went to see a specialist.”

Selway visited a surgeon on a Thursday and had the lump removed four days later on Monday at Canton’s Aultman Hospital. The surgeon called the lump “suspicious” and ordered more tests. A definite answer didn’t arrive for two more weeks, but when it did it wasn’t good.

The tests came back positive and the news arrived the same day as the Bears’ season opener against Lisbon David Anderson. Selway played, led the team to a 33-7 win and then told his coach.

His teammates found out after a Week 2 loss to rival Columbiana.

“Looking back it’s pretty remarkable that he was able to play that first game and do so well with that weighing on his mind,” Leetonia head coach Matt Altomare said. “There were rumors circulating and people talking. After the second game, he addressed the whole team.”

Selway played the first four games at 100 percent. The Thursday before a Week 5 showdown with Wellsville he got his first dose of chemotherapy. Things suddenly changed.

“It’s not what you think,” Selway said of his chemo treatments. “They put a port in my chest that stuck out a quarter of an inch and then the IV drip went in there. The actual treatment took nearly three hours and ate up a good portion of the day.

“The chemo kills the cancer cells but it also kills the good cells and demolishes your immune system over time. Every week I’d get my blood checked and they’d tell me ‘Well, you’re healthy enough to play football this week.’ That was a week to week thing the rest of the season.”

Selway dressed for the Wellsville game and wore a kneepad with a hole in it over the port. He saw limited action on defense towards the end of the contest. Selway also logged minutes in weeks 6-8, but missed Week 9 all together. Week 10 he wasn’t supposed to play either but dressed anyway and got on the field.

The Bears made the playoffs, thanks to several things going their way, on the final weekend, but lost their first-round game to Bascom Hopewell-Loudon, the eventual state runner-up.

“I’ve said it before but you have to try to appreciate the talent you’re given,” Selway said. “I always did, but you don’t really grasp it until you can’t go out there. I remember going out for the Wellsville game knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to play and I remember tearing up.

“The rest of the games it was always just something that when I was able to play it made it that much better. And I feel the same way now. I keep that in the back of my mind. I guess you could say I use that to my advantage – knowing how lucky I am to be able to play.”

Selway had ample time to expand his appreciation.

After his third and final chemo treatment in late November, his attention turned to basketball, which is arguably his best sport. A two-year starter at point guard, Selway was regulated to a rotation last year. He said he started a “handful of games” at mid-season, but wasn’t even “semi-healthy” until the team’s final tournament game.

Thirty radiation treatments that started Dec. 31 and ran through January did not help his playing time.

“When he wasn’t there you could just tell,” said Trummer, a two-sport standout himself. “The team just wasn’t all together. He’s the glue. We play so much better with him. It was hard not having him there.”

Selway regularly got sick during basketball games and would have to exit the court at timeouts to throw up in the locker room. He gutted it out though and persevered as much as he could.

He was voted all-district despite his limited minutes.

“As a freshman and sophomore, I never came off the court and suddenly I was being pulled in and out.” Selway said. “Honestly every game I did play I probably shouldn’t have been out there at all but I had to try.”

After the radiation, Selway’s situation started to improve.

Although he hadn’t played baseball since eighth grade, he went out and made the varsity team where he started at shortstop and pitcher. He batted over .300.

Selway says he wasn’t 100-percent restored until June. Since then, he’s been unstoppable.

“They’ve given him a clean bill of health and it is in remission,” Altomare said. “You can never say it’s cured, because you just never know. But he’s back to being himself physically.

“We lost a lot of starters from last year and he’s one of the few holdovers. People expect big things out of him this year and he’s accepted it. He’s expected to make that pass on third down or make that play on fourth down and he’s handled it very well.”

Selway has always carried weighty expectations and star status, which is why his situation and handling of it is inspiring. Selway isn’t just one of Leetonia’s athletes. More often than not he is THE athlete.

As a freshman, he set varsity records in basketball and started in the defensive backfield. As a sophomore, he started at every skill position in football at least once en route to first team all-league honors at running back. As a sophomore in basketball, he was Leetonia’s leading scorer (12 points) the night they beat Southern to get off to the school’s best start (8-1) in school history. Selway went six-of-six from the foul line in the fourth quarter of the 50-42 win. Last year, despite knowing he had cancer, Selway was the team’s leading tackler through the first four games.

“Josh is a natural leader,” Altomare said. “He’s been a leader since his freshman year. Some kids just have that special thing and you know they’re different. He has it.

“Our practices are different when he’s not here. I hate to say that but that’s how it is. When he’s not at practice you can see it.”

Selway’s been to practice all season this year and yes, you can see it.

Through eight weeks Leetonia is 7-1 and ranked No. 10 in the ONN/Ohio High Division VI Power Poll. The Bears are in position to make the playoffs.

Selway has close to 2,500 total yards and is the team’s leading rusher (1,447 yards). He has accounted for 23 touchdowns.

In a 41-21 win over Sebring McKinley in Week 4, Selway ran for three touchdowns and scored on a 34-yard punt return and 83-yard kickoff return – all before halftime.

In a 19-6 Week 2 win over Columbiana, which was the Bears’ first in the series since 2004, Selway rushed for 200 yards and scored all three Leetonia touchdowns. In the opener, a 34-13 win over Anderson, he ran for a team-high 150 yards and scored two touchdowns.

His marquee outing was a 40-34 win over Berlin Center Western Reserve last week. Selway scored the wining TD with two seconds left to cap a night in which he rushed for 205 yards and three TDs on 38 carries, threw for 124 yards and two TDs and returned an interception 47 yards for a TD.

“Coming into the season and knowing that he was going to be 100 percent under center made us all happy,” Trummer said. “He’s amazing back there.”

When Selway graduates from Leetonia in June, he plans to hang up his cleats.
Despite having the ability to play sports in college, Selway is just going to be a student. Ohio State is the destination. Medicine the major.

Who knows? Maybe one day Selway will find a cure for cancer.

He already knows how to beat it.

“Every week at games people I don’t even know talk to me and shake my hand and tell me they are rooting for me,” Selway said. “It really means a lot, especially the ones who come up and say they are survivors too. Just the other day I got a letter from a man in Alliance telling me about how his wife had cancer and that he was going to be rooting for me, too.

“Stuff like that is mind blowing.”

Stories like Selway’s are, too.

For video highlights of Josh Selway click here.

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