Softball helped Steve Gorden find the love of his life.
Three months after he lost his wife, Trula, to a lengthy battle with cancer, it’s the sport, that love and the relationships he formed in 42 years of coaching that help Gorden cope and still find ways to succeed.
Gorden, 63, and in his 10th season as Cimarron-Memorial’s head coach, guided the Spartans back to the Sunset Region playoffs in what might be the best coaching job of his career. Cimarron (15-14-1) will open the double-elimination tournament at Arbor View (14-10-1) at 3:30 p.m. today.
“He has been absolutely amazing,” said Spartans assistant coach Sam Craner. “I don’t know that I could do what he has done. It just shows his dedication to the girls.”
The Spartans aren’t blessed with the depth of talent some Southern Nevada teams can boast. Only two players have more than 17 RBIs, and the team ERA is a modest 3.05, but Cimarron has found ways to just hang around and win games.
“We have a lot of heart,” Gorden said. “With what I’ve been through, and the girls experienced that too, they were down for a while. For the experience that we have, to make regionals is a big accomplishment.”
And Gorden credits the heart and his team’s willingness to fight to his wife.
“It’s because of Trula. When this happened, the parents were more involved, the kids talked more about being a family and how important family was,” he said. “They’ve told me they appreciated me fighting through this. It gave them an insight about how important things are in life and treating people right.”
The couple met in 1987 when Gorden was coaching softball in California. Both had daughters on the team, and the two eventually married in 1989 and moved to Las Vegas in 1996.
In 2000, Trula was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She went through chemotherapy, and seemed to have won the battle. But in 2010, cancer cells had settled into her liver, and tumors began to develop.
She fought again for more than three years.
Trula died on Feb. 8, a month before the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. She was 65.
“She was a fighter,” Gorden said. “When it comes down to real life, and it comes down to seeing her taking her last breath ... she had already said, ‘Steve, let me go.’ She knew, and she just wanted me to accept it. She said, ‘Live a good life.’ ”
Just five weeks later, Gorden and the Spartans opened their season.
“He was stronger than everybody expected,” said Cimarron senior Sarah Murphy, a four-year letter winner. “It was hard for everyone, but the part that made it is easier was that he handled it so well.”
Not being on the field wasn’t an option for Gorden, who has coached either spring, summer or fall softball — and often more than one — each year since 1972, the year he returned from a 360-day tour of military service in Vietnam.
“She wanted me to live life and do what I love to do,” said Gorden. “We met through softball. Coaching was such a big part of our lives. She loved it. She told me to not give it up. I will (coach) as long as I can, as long as I’m effective.”
The walls in Gorden’s classroom at Cimarron, where he teaches history, are adorned with pictures of his five daughters, one son and three stepdaughters and his 26 grandchildren. There are newspaper clippings and photos of softball teams he coached in California, and of his Spartan teams.
In a way, it blends together. Two families, one related, the other formed through a love of softball.
“Steve and Trula had an amazing relationship, and Trula loved the girls as much as Steve does,” Craner said. “She always knew how important Steve was in these young women’s lives. She was just an amazing woman.”
Added Murphy: “She was very a very fun-loving person, always making the most out of every situation.”
Craner said Gorden always has been as concerned with teaching his players life lessons as he is teaching them softball. This season’s lessons won’t be forgotten.
“It made all of us realize that life is important, and to take care of yourself,” Gorden said. “Games are games, but they definitely relate to real life. You have battles that you have to endure.
“I’m a stronger person because of everything I’ve been through.”
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at email@example.com or (702) 387-5230.