Phoebus Little League 'icon' steps away gracefully to battle breast cancer

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After volunteering for the Phoebus Little League for 47 years, Mary McCoy has stepped down to fight breast cancer.

HAMPTON — The treatments are punishing. They sap Mary McCoy's strength, energy and mind. But this is a good day, the brightest she's had of late, and when she inspects a Phoebus Little League team photograph from the 1980s, the memories are fresh.

"They went 18-0," Miss Mary says proudly, identifying nearly all the children sporting their Orioles uniforms.

Ricky Anderson and Brett Wheeler, Brian Silver and Damon Phillips, to name a few. Phil McCoy, Miss Mary's husband, was the coach.

Short only in stature, Miss Mary — that's what everyone calls her — towered over any coach. She made Phoebus Little League her second home for 47 years, volunteering as president, cook, scorekeeper, announcer, fundraiser, arbiter and den mother.

"The icon," friend and fellow volunteer K.C. Fowler calls her.

"She was the glue that kept Phoebus Little League together," board member Larry Denlinger says.

"She's a great influence on (the kids) because she wants to find the very best in every one of them," says long-time friend Pam Holtzclaw, "even if she puts a foot up their heinie. … I've never seen her not like a child. She finds something positive in every child."

Miss Mary appreciates the kind words and raves about all the help she received. She acknowledges the challenges of balancing life at home, office and ballfield, but she never wanted it any other way.

"I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I was there," she says of Little League.

Miss Mary, 74, isn't there much these days. Diagnosed with breast cancer this summer, she resigned as league president after three decades in the position.

Naturally, the departure was difficult and emotional. But after a lifetime of service to others, it's time for Miss Mary to worry about herself, to focus on treatment and, God willing, recovery.

"They're telling me that in a year everything should be OK," she says, relaxing in her home of the last 52 years near Buckroe Beach.

Dressed sharply and with her thick gray hair fixed just so, Miss Mary discusses her gauntlet — chemotherapy, radiation, possible surgery — with grace and humor, and without a hint of anger or self-pity.

She lost Phil to cancer in 2007 after 47 years of marriage, but she's surrounded by family and friends. Her only child, son Duke, lives nearby, and her two grandchildren, Timmy and Melissa, are frequent visitors.

Dear friends, most made through Little League, make sure she never wants for a meal, ride or companionship. As it should be. After all, Miss Mary did all that and more for countless folks over the years.

"I can't even imagine how many kids," she says, "and the first place they come back to is Phoebus Little League. … None of them forget me, no matter where they go."

"Whenever I went back there, no matter how old I was, she'd call me up to the booth and give me a big hug," says Wheeler, Kecoughtan High's baseball coach. "It felt like you were going back home."

A welder at the Newport News shipyard, Phil McCoy began coaching at Phoebus Little League shortly after he and Miss Mary moved to the Peninsula in the early 1960s. They'd met in their native southwestern Virginia and shared a love of baseball.

Phil pulled for the Dodgers, then in Brooklyn, and Miss Mary followed suit. But they found a true calling in grass roots baseball and helped Phoebus Little League grow to 50-plus teams and more than 600 players during its 1990s peak.

"Funny thing is," Miss Mary says, "my husband never played a day of baseball in his life."

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