Copyright 2005 The Lexington Herald Leader
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Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)

February 28, 2005 Monday


LENGTH: 1115 words




To many in the Fleming County gym Feb. 1, it looked to be a typical night for
Panthers point guard Presley Marshall.

During a 60-54 loss to Mason County, Marshall was again Fleming's most
dominant player, registering 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

For Marshall, the initial disappointment was that he couldn't bring the
Panthers their 13th win of the season to that point. Three days later, the
soft-spoken senior learned that his athletic skills would never aid his
teammates again.

The pains shooting through Marshall's chest during the game told the
18-year-old that the final score was not the only thing amiss that night.

After informing his coaches of the symptoms, which had been plaguing him for
nearly a week, Marshall saw the team doctor the next day. He was sent to a
cardiologist at Central Baptist two days later.

The diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis, otherwise known
as an enlarged heart.

The result meant that Marshall -- a standout in football and basketball --
would have to give up his athletic career for good.

"I was really upset," Marshall said. "I felt like I'd let my team down first
and foremost. I'm still not real sure if it has (set in yet)."

Accompanying the diagnosis was the onslaught of anguish and uncertainty as
Marshall tried to comprehend the sudden shift his life had taken.

While Cumberland College and Kentucky Wesleyan were among the schools that
expressed interest in Marshall as a basketball recruit, he was also fielding
offers from several state colleges that sought him for football.

Understandably, it was the lost opportunities that dominated the thoughts of
Marshall and those closest to him in the immediate aftermath of that hospital

Before long, however, tears started to give way to relief once Marshall
realized the opportunities still open to him.

"The initial reaction was just shock," said Fleming basketball coach Todd
Messer. "For any athlete, the last thing you want to hear is that your athletic
future is over.

"But, thankfully, we found it early enough where he can concentrate on other
things that are important to him like getting his education and having a career.
We're just thankful we got it checked out before we had a tragedy on our hands."

Like many student-athletes, Marshall's relationship with sports dates to long
before he was old enough to keep score.

"I started playing sports when I was really young, maybe second grade," he
said. "I played baseball for a long time and when I got to high school, football
and basketball just kind of took over my sports career."

Fleming football coach Gene Peterson made Marshall a starting wide receiver
as a freshman. The squad rebounded from a 6-5 season the year before to finish

"He just was a gifted athlete from day one," Peterson said. "He could just do
things that other athletes can't do. It seemed like every time he touched the
ball, something good was going to happen."

By his junior year, Marshall was a starter in both football and basketball.
He headed into his senior season determined to establish himself among the elite
players in the state in both sports.

Last fall, Marshall and teammate Jordan Fritz comprised one of the top
receiving duos in the state on a Fleming team that went 11-2 and made it to the
regional finals.

By season's end, Marshall totaled 25 touchdowns and 1,300 receiving yards --
fifth in the state -- and earned first-team All-State honors.

"He actually had his jersey retired at the end of the season in football,"
Messer said. "He has a great mind in both sports, and had an amazing competitive

Even when he wasn't in uniform, Marshall could never quite leave the athletic
field for long.

"In the evenings he would always come back and help referee the little league
football games," Peterson said. "He's just a super kid. All the young kids knew
him and looked up to him."

After a 2-3 start to the basketball season, Marshall's leadership helped
spark Fleming County to nine wins in its next 11 games.

By the time Marshall learned of his condition on Feb. 4, he was averaging 19
points, seven rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 4.1 steals.

"A lot of times, when you have kids with that kind of talent, they don't
always want to really work that hard," Messer said. "The thing about Presley
that was always amazing is he had all this talent, but he came every day to
practice and played with all the heart you could ever ask of a kid."

The sports world can no longer count Marshall as an active participant, but
it has provided a touch of solace.

Marshall remains an active part of the basketball team, attending games and
practices while helping his teammates adjust to his on-court absence.

"It's good to still be able to be around the team," Marshall said. "Everyone
's tried to keep me around people and keep me positive about everything and tell
me there is a lot more to my life than just sports.

"It's tough, though. I feel helpless sometimes sitting on the bench when
things are going on the court that I know are going wrong."

An emotional moment for all involved came when Fleming faced Estill County on
Feb. 8, its first game with its longtime leader on the bench.

The Panthers gave Marshall a much-needed pleasant distraction when they won

"It's been good for him since he can't be the leader on the floor to still be
the leader of the team," Messer said. "I mean, he's still the heart and soul of
our team."

Marshall and his family admittedly still struggle with the fact that the body
that once carried him to the heights of athletic achievement now needs
medication on a daily basis.

There is surgery slated for the coming months and the ongoing worry that
accompanies it.

"It's hard on my mom. Some days it seems like she checks on me 25 times in
the course of an hour to see how I'm feeling," Marshall said.

In the meantime, however, Marshall still has the business of choosing a
college ahead of him. If he has his way, Marshall's career path will most likely
lead him back to the sidelines- -- this time as a coach.

"I don't care what sport I coach," he says. "I just want to be part of the
game again."

The fact that he still has a future to look forward to trumps anything he
accomplished on the field.

"Sometimes our athletes have career-ending injuries, but this is a matter of
life and death," Peterson said. "He knows if he had gone on, he would be laid
out somewhere.

"We're all very lucky. A lot of times, there's not a diagnosis until you have
an autopsy. The bad news is his athletic career had to end. The good news is he
's going to do well and graduate and have the rest of his life ahead of him."

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