WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Volleyball has always been there for the Bretl family.
The impact of the past two high school boys’ volleyball seasons is immeasurable for Don and Jane Bretl and their two sons, St. Xavier senior outside hitter Cole and 2016 St. X graduate Evan, who is a club player at Georgia Tech.
“It’s the pure happiness of watching them play,” Jane said this week. “We’re surrounded by friends and people that care about each other.”
Jane, a member of St. Xavier’s Alumni Development Office who works to organize the annual X-Travaganza fundraisers, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2016. She started chemotherapy two days after Evan graduated from St. X.
"It was hectic, honestly," Cole said last week. "It was hard seeing her like that."
Evan and Cole knew what was happening last spring with their mother’s health. The siblings and teammates kept the news relatively low-key initially. Both were balancing final exams with the conclusion of the season.
“I think playing volleyball gave them a focus -- something very positive they could be doing in a difficult time,” Jane said.
Evan played all four years at St. Xavier. He's now a computer science major at Georgia Tech.
St. Xavier coach Bill Ferris reached out to the brothers and encouraged them to know they had a great deal of support. Hopefully, Ferris said, volleyball would be used a break of sorts.
“Volleyball has been such a joy and a distraction in a way,” said Don, a Procter & Gamble engineer who coached his sons in grade school.
But what the family didn’t realize last spring was how much support they would soon receive from other parents of St. X and Cincinnati Attack club teams during the summer and this past fall.
Families at St. John the Evangelist Church in West Chester, where Don coaches volleyball to third and fourth graders, also stepped up.
“The outpouring of care from all aspects of my life was very incredible,” Jane said.
And like the sport the family adores, each member of the school, parish and club community played an integral role.
Meals were brought weekly. Cards and text messages were sent. Prayers were said nightly. Someone sent a gift of holy water to Cole last spring.
“It’s really been pretty overwhelming actually,” Don said.
But the support was not surprising for those that know the family.
Ferris said Don and Jane have remained committed this spring as team parents in helping the state’s No. 1-ranked team.
Team parents help arrange meals, make travel arrangements and serve as a communications link from the coach to the other families.
Cole, who will attend Ohio State and study engineering in the fall, has played well for the Bombers (9-1). The three-year starter has been an outside hitter after being mostly a setter last spring.
“He’s really gotten comfortable in that role and has really been a consistent performer for us,” Ferris said.
Ferris is encouraging more hugs and prayers for Jane this spring. She finished her treatments Feb. 1 but is taking other medicine. Cole is glad to know she is feeling better this spring.
“I am doing very well now,” Jane said. “I feel great.”
She’s also encouraged knowing the support will always be there. Don and Jane rarely miss a match.
“Honestly, some of the happiest times I have this spring are watching them all play,” Jane said.