Thanks to Bruce Jenkins for this well-crafted story on Mark Foyer and me.
By Bruce Jenkins
They called him Scoop, and he was a one-man sports staff. Mark Foyer seemed to be everywhere at once, filling pages of the Half Moon Bay Review with stories, features and commentary on the local high school to the great delight of athletes and their parents.
He was a local legend, and remains so, but Foyer views life from an Oakland hospital bed these days, felled by a disease known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome. He has barely been able to move, let alone take a stroll, since April 2015. To visit him is to be shocked, depressed and then invigorated by his boundless spirit. The nature of the disease leaves no guarantee when or even if a patient will fully recover, but Foyer believes he will. He knows it.
And in the interim, a very generous and hard-working fellow has stepped in. Thanks to John Murphy, the Review sports section is back in business.
“Having John fall into our lap,” said Review editor Clay Lambert, “was like manna from heaven.”
Imagine working two jobs, neither of which pays very well, for the satisfaction of giving. Murphy is only a part-time employee of the Review, hired after the paper sent out a desperate plea via Craigslist, but he reaches out to the wide expanse of Half Moon Bay High School sports — freshman teams, junior varsity, varsity, soccer, wrestling, volleyball, water polo, whatever is in season — in his weekly dispatches.
When asked about his other job, at El Granada Elementary School, Murphy simply said, “teachers’ aide.” In fact, he works with special-education children who would be lost without the proper guidance.
He’s a bit of a vagabond, having covered high school sports with a passion since his graduation from San Francisco State. Working mostly for daily newspapers, Murphy passed through San Mateo, Watsonville, Victorville, San Bernardino and Riverside over the years, later hooking up with Prep2Prep, featuring high school coverage in California and several other states.
The Sporting Green is highlighting a series of “Holiday Heroes,” all of whom are making the world a better place through sports.
Not once, he says, did he ever aspire to cover major sports or be a big-time columnist. He once covered the High Desert Mavericks, a minor-league baseball team managed by Chris Speier (the former Giant), for the Victor Valley Daily Press, and the experience left him rather cold.
“A lot of the guys were really cool,” he recalled, “but others, not so much. I wasn’t crazy about dealing with that.
“A high school kid, whenever you talk to him or her, they’re excited. It’s maybe the first, maybe the only time they’ll ever be interviewed. It’s kind of neat from that standpoint.”
It was 1997 when Murphy decided the baseball beat wasn’t for him, and that was the year Mark Foyer was hired at the Review. “Our sports budget is pretty small,” said publisher Bill Murray, “but there was no way Mark wouldn’t cover an event he felt passionate about — and that was just about every event. Maybe the most earnest guy I’ve ever known. I’d be surprised if we paid him for a quarter of the time he put in.”
In a Review piece published in August, Lambert wrote, “Other sportswriters would have longed for bigger stages and more important contests — and he did find ways to cover national and even international events, often on his own dime (a track and field aficionado, Foyer attended the World Championships in Edmonton, Paris, Helsinki, Osaka and Berlin in the 2000s). But in Half Moon Bay, Foyer discovered a small community that he could bear-hug. Suffice to say, the town returned the embrace.”The walls of Foyer’s hospital room are decorated with cards, photos, letters and Facebook posts from well-wishers. “I had no idea so many people cared about me,” he said last week.
Much less clear is how Foyer, 54, found himself there.
It started with a simple visit to the doctor in March 2015, Foyer wondering if he had a bad case of allergies. Within days he was in the emergency room at Mills-Peninsula Hospital, his body essentially shutting down, and he has yet to return home. Friends and family feared for his life when he fell into a coma-like state — for eight weeks. “He went ‘code blue’ at one point,” said Foyer’s half-brother, Willy Mautner. “I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it.”
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the peripheral nervous system and leaves the body in a paralysis-like state. Researchers have yet to determine the cause or set a specific timeline for recovery. “Some people get well within a year,” said his sister-in-law, Susan Mautner. “Mark’s case is like the worst of the worst. It’s just a complete unknown.”
Lying in a state of paralysis is a powerful test of one’s patience and resolve. “There were times that I thought I would die,” he said. “One night, I was so sure I was going to pass away that I made peace with myself. Now I see that I have a long life ahead of me. I thank God for everyone who has reached out. They’ve given me so much support and love that at times it can be very emotional.”
For the first 10 months of his hospitalization, now based in the neurological wing of the Bay Area Healthcare Center in Oakland, Foyer was unable to speak. Uttering those first few words, in February, was an immense breakthrough. Friends and family can’t avoid bouts of depression, “and Mark still gets a little grumpy sometimes,” Susan Mautner said, “but he’s very forward-looking, very confident. That makes everyone feel better.”
Such small steps. Learning to swallow, feeling slight movement in his legs and fingers, standing up (with assistance) for two or three minutes in physical-therapy sessions, or sensing a bit of pain in the hip — “the muscles are waking up,” he says. The immediate goal is for Foyer to travel in a wheelchair under his own power. No one dares to predict when that day will come.
At the sight of a visitor, Foyer becomes chatty, eyes ablaze. He’s up to date on the Giants, Jim Harbaugh, how the Half Moon Bay Cougars are doing. How slow is his progress? “As slow as the 5 o’clock Friday commute on the Nimitz,” he jokes. His first words after more than a year of silence? “I hear there was a hockey game and a Trump rally broke out.”
Among the posted newspapers clippings is a Review column from Murphy, headlined “Call me interim bard until Foyer gets back.” That one carries special meaning.
“John is very, very good at what he does,” Foyer said. “He moved to Half Moon Bay to be close to the community, and he really knows it. He’s doing a great job.”
And the sports section hums along, just as thorough and enlightening as ever. “John’s like a machine, but maybe more reliable,” Murray said.
“It’s really remarkable,” said Traci Yerby, whose son, Ryan, was recently featured for his accomplishments in two sports and the classroom. “Mark is an institution here. The kids always loved seeing all his articles, and John has taken it over so well. This is a small community, and it’s so important for kids to be recognized and be the focus.”
On the fields, in the gym, during interviews, Murphy presses on as if it’s no big deal. “Nobody knows the coastside like Mark,” he said. “The guy is Mr. Half Moon Bay. Everywhere I go, it’s, ‘Where’s Mark?’ or ‘How’s Mark?’ He’s iconic.
“I try to hammer out my singles each week until Mark comes back, puts on his No. 24 jersey and starts hitting the home runs again.”
About the series
The Sporting Green is highlighting a series of “Holiday Heroes,” all of whom are making the world a better place through sports. Read all of our installments at sfchronicle.com/sports.