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Helping Coach Had: Community rallies around beloved athletic trainer during battle with leukemia

Richmond's athletic trainer Mitch Hadinger, shown assisting an Anson wrestler, was diagnosed with leukemia this week. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — A local man who has been a beacon of public service to Richmond County’s student-athletes is now getting support from the community during a time of need.

Mitch Hadinger, affectionately known as “Coach Had” around Richmond Senior High School’s campus, has spent the past 20 years as an integral part of the fabric that is Raider athletics.

As Richmond’s athletic trainer, Hadinger has helped others deal with sports-related injuries since he joined the school in 2004. He also is a strength and conditioning teacher.

Within the past week, Hadinger was diagnosed with acute leukemia, which affects the blood and bone marrow, and is currently under the care of doctors in Chapel Hill. 

He said he was expected to undergo a biopsy on Tuesday and begin treatment as soon as Wednesday.

Hadinger is the second member of the Raider football program to be diagnosed with cancer in the past year. Bobby Little, then a sophomore linebacker, was diagnosed with leukemia last October.

A familiar face at all home sporting events, Hadinger is often seen taping ankles, tending to bloody noses or adjusting football helmets, all while being someone who others seek advice from or ask for help.

His impact goes beyond the sidelines, as he regularly certifies coaches in CPR training and was a member of a special committee to oversee the return of local athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the weekend, a Meal Train account was established by Roberdel Baptist Church to help the Hadinger family. At the time of publication, a total of $3,750 had been raised and 25 meals had been donated.

“This family is constantly involved in almost every aspect of ministry at Roberdel Baptist Church and is well loved,” the page reads. “Our hearts go out to them during this time. This is our time to minister to them.”

The meals and money for groceries will go toward Hadinger’s wife Carmen and four of their six children who still live at home — Carson, Hudson, Abi and Ian. The Hadingers have two adult children, Austin and Hayden, who live outside the family home.


“I’m almost not sure what to make of it,” Hadinger, 46, said of all the support. “I can’t imagine I have made that big of an impact. But I’m overwhelmed, humbled and honored.”

Deon Cranford III, a Richmond athletics historian and contributor to the RO, made a graphic earlier this week customizing the Raider diamond into a nod to Hadinger. 

The image has since been shared numerous times on social media, and several of the school’s athletic pages have adopted it as their profile or cover photos.  

An image created by Deon Cranford III to offer support to Coach Hadinger. (Courtesy of Deon Cranford III)

While Coach Had tends to all of Richmond’s varsity and junior varsity programs, he is most synonymous with the football program. He travels to away games, and as head coach Bryan Till shares, Coach Had does a lot of work behind the scenes.

“There is no way to accurately describe how important Mitch Hadinger is to Raider athletics,” Till said. “His training skills are paramount to keeping our kids safe, his administrative skills help keep us organized in compliance, and the most important skill he has is he cares for our kids and coaches and helps whenever he is asked.  

“Had has fixed scoreboards, sound systems, waterboys and computer issues. He shows up for extra hours to help rehabilitate kids and calls to check on their progress. He makes Gatorade for meals, mom’s club events and helps transport safety equipment and postgame meals to games. He does so much that I’m probably leaving out half of it just by trying to make a list.”

Of his upcoming journey through treatment, Handinger said he will take “one step at a time” and knows he has Raider Nation supporting him.

“It is all overwhelming and very easy to sink into despair or denial,” Hadinger said. “It’s kind of like swimming in the ocean when you can’t see the destination. You just know it’s there if you keep swimming in that direction.

“There are times when the waves and fatigue may want to make you stop, but you know if you do you will only sink.”

MEAL TRAIN: To find out more about the Meal Train account set up for the Hadinger family, click here.

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Kyle Pillar is a 22-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on X @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.