Always straight from his heart

Boys soccer: Major surgery to correct a defective aorta over the summer has forced Boys' Latin coach Butch Maisel to slow down a little, but his passion for the game is as intense as ever.

October 28, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

The Boys' Latin soccer season is all about heart -- coach Butch Maisel's as well as his team's.

In the first practice, Maisel showed his players a 10-inch long, thick, red cord of skin running from below his neck down to an inch from his belly button. It was the result of July heart surgery to correct an abnormal aorta.

"My heart's in the right place," he said. "I hope yours is."

From that moment, there has been no compromise in either Maisel's coaching or his team's playing.

In a recent win at Gilman, Maisel implored his players to "maintain composure" and "execute." His team responded, overcoming their first deficit of the year to win, 3-1.

"Coach is limited in what he can do, physically. He can't drill with us like he used to, but he still gives great direction," said midfielder Matt Feild. "I thought his yelling would slow down, but no - he's got the same, intense style, and I'm glad that wasn't affected. He's got a winning attitude that he passes on to us."

The Lakers' 3-0 victory last Thursday over Park was their school-record 13th shutout and the career record 26th for goalie Matt Tielsch. They are 13-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's B Conference, and a school-record 17-0 overall, eclipsing the single-season best 16-0 of Maisel's 1986 championship team.

The Lakers can finish an unbeaten regular season with a win at Severn on Wednesday before the Nov. 8 playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

"A few days before his surgery, coach was on the field setting up the nets," said senior Alex Filamor, part of a defense that's allowed a school-record low four goals. "You see his dedication and want to have a special year, not for ourselves, but for him."

But during the weeks Maisel was recovering at home, it seemed improbable that he would return for this season.

"Getting in the car, sitting up, standing up, getting dressed - we couldn't leave him at home alone because he had to be helped with everything," said his son, Chris Maisel, 15, the team's reserve goalie. "He'd get back cramps, couldn't move his arms well ... he needed help every five minutes."

But Maisel's thirst for action never left him.

"One day, in the hospital, he said, `Bring your soccer ball next time. You can make some saves in here,' " said Chris Maisel. "People didn't think he'd come back, but a week before school, he's at a camp, kicking balls at me."

On Oct. 17 - three months to the day after his operation - Maisel walked the floor of the school's gym where he suddenly collapsed during a pick-up basketball game in May.

"I made a basket, bent over for a rest, and when I stood up, I'm dizzy, everything's spinning," said Maisel, 48. "There were no chest pains, but I was in trouble and tried to get out of there."

But he couldn't. Maisel collapsed in a corner of the gym, hitting his head on a doorknob on the way down, and lay, barely conscious, until paramedics arrived.

"Dad gives me a thumbs up sign, waves to me into an ambulance where he's on a stretcher with a respirator on," said Chris Maisel, who was summoned from class. "I figured `it's migraines' since he has a history of them. Then a [doctor] at the hospital puts a stethoscope on his chest and goes, `What's that?' "

The whooshing sound cardiologist Ronald Schecter of GBMC heard in Maisel's chest was far more serious: It was a heart murmur from a turbulent blood flow. Maisel is among 1 percent of the population that is born with only two of the three hinges that regulates blood flow from the heart to the body, said Dr. Stewart Finney, who operated on Maisel at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The defect can narrow the aortic valve, forcing the heart to work harder. It can be fatal but usually is caught and corrected.

"Mr. Maisel's heart hit its limit and he passed out," said Finney, who replaced Maisel's natural valve with one of graphite and carbon. "The thing that's scary is being suddenly faced with your mortality."

Maisel said he never lost faith.

"The hardest thing was a father-daughter talk with Claire [11 years old] the night before the operation, letting her know there was a possibility that I might not be around, I'd see the Lord, and everything would be OK," he said.

"Do I appreciate life more? Right now, it's kind of on hold. All I think about is my family and how gratifying this season's been."

From his roles as a coach of soccer, baseball and ice hockey, Maisel, a McDonogh graduate, always has thrown himself into his work. "I believe if you're going to do something, you do it right, and you always give more than you take."

Last spring, however, Maisel began experiencing shortness of breath walking the long stairwell to his classes. "He was always so tired," said his wife, Janet. "I told him, `You should slow down.' "

Two weeks ago, she got her wish: Maisel (171-103-27 career) announced to his team that this, his 17th season, will be his last.

"Soccer takes the most from my family time. The second week in August, you're cutting grass, setting up the goals, lining the field, sorting uniforms," said Maisel, who will keep coaching baseball and hockey. "When I'm back to work, my wife says, `See you next year.' But I'm going to stop, sit back with the family, take the edge off."

Maisel takes a blood thinner, which prevents clotting by making him bleed more freely. As a result, he has modified the physical aspects of coaching. There was, however, the day headmaster Mercer Neale III admonished him for going too hard.

"I was running with the kids in practice and he's like, `What the heck are you doing?' I'm used to being tenacious - doing slide tackles, diving at balls," said Maisel. "Now I only do the drills where I won't get hurt. It's still gratifying, watching the kids have a great season."

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