CHAMPAIGN — Stan Bergman never dwelled on his uniqueness as a child.
Growing up with one blue eye and one brown eye was just who he was. “It was never a huge issue,” the Centennial volleyball coach said.
For the past 21/2 years, who he is has changed. He no longer has vision out of both eyes.
The brown eye — the right one — can no longer make out the top letter on an eye chart, the 31/2-inch “E.”
“I couldn’t see it,” Bergman said.
Now, it is a huge issue.
He has undergone tests and treatments as well as a cornea transplant earlier this year. Bergman is still legally blind in the right eye.
It has reached the point where he is considering lightening his workload to reduce stress and “give the body time to where it could heal itself,” Bergman said.
One option, he said, could be to give up high school coaching.
“Retiring from Centennial at the end of the school year is a definite possibility,” Bergman said. “I’m heavily involved from the end of May until the middle of November. There are a lot of things head coaches have to do.
“That would possibly be one thing to lighten the load.”
Though his most recent Centennial team won a school-record 37 matches and secured the school’s first state hardware in volleyball (third place), Bergman isn’t sure he can give his team his best.
“I’m into the technical stuff, how they look, how the legs and arms are moving,” he said. “This makes it extremely difficult to focus on that. It’s difficult to be able to watch both sides of the court. I’ve had to focus on half of the court, and that aspect is frustrating.”
Everyday drills present challenges.
“Depth perception is very different (with one eye),” he said. “It’s frustrating to try and pick up a volleyball and reach to the left side of it. Even going up to hit a volleyball is different. I might whiff at it.
“I’m trying to do the best I can physically when I can’t do physically what I was used to during the past 20 years. I could rip volleyballs where I wanted.”
Through his ordeals, his players know his heart is with them.
“He genuinely cares about every player and doesn’t just teach volleyball but also life lessons,” senior middle hitter Rachel Jones said. “I’ve learned a lot from him and am so glad I got to have him as a coach.”
The 2012 season was Bergman’s 23rd in the high school ranks. He got his start in 1990 as a volunteer assistant for Margurette Carter at Rantoul.
“It has been a fascinating and wonderful journey,” said Bergman, who later was the Eagles’ head coach for one season before taking over in 1999 at Centennial, where he was the school’s fifth head coach in eight seasons.
Now at 42, he is pondering his future, a future he desperately hopes will include two functioning eyes.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
Bergman was working at a volleyball camp on the UI campus in the summer of 2010 when he said, “I started noticing something going on goofy.”
When he closed his left eye, “things seemed hazy with my right eye. It was like there was a fog around the items.”
For years, he’d made regular visits to the eye doctor.
“When I was born, things weren’t fully developed structurally in the eye,” he said. “Sightwise, things were fine, but I had a bit of glaucoma.”
In October 2010, Bergman was diagnosed with a cataract in the right eye. A few months later, surgery was performed.
“It was an unusual procedure,” he said. “I was awake and very aware. It was very colorful, a lot of pinks, a lot of opaques.”
He was fitted with an eye patch and said, “I did everything I was supposed to do.”
The eye became infected. A scab formed in the back of his eye, which he said, “rubbed against the interior of my head.”
He was put on eye drops, and the infection subsided in several weeks.
“The drops that were used irritated the cornea, and the cornea was scratched,” Bergman said. “One issue led to another issue, and now we had another issue.”
Bergman was referred to a specialist at Rush Memorial in West Chicago. That appointment took place in August 2011.
“It took him two minutes to make a judgment that I needed a cornea transplant,” Bergman said.
That three-hour procedure took place last January.
“I’ve been on post-op ever since,” Bergman said.
The recovery time, Bergman was told, could be a year. Eleven months after the transplant, however, he said, “I’m still back where I was.”
His latest doctor’s visit was the week of Thanksgiving.
“Things aren’t meshing together,” Bergman was told. “The blood vessels on the bottom of the cornea aren’t connecting. They hope the blood vessels will come back together.”
In the meantime, he is on three sets of eye drops and has a follow-up visit after Christmas.
“I can tell color,” he said, “but it has to be contrasting, like blue on white or yellow on black. Everything looks like a mirror in the bathroom that’s steamed over.”
Bergman continues to teach at Jefferson Middle School, though he has had to make adjustments.
“The rule of thumb is you try to keep all of the kids in front of you,” he said. “I’ve had to adjust how I walk around the classroom. I have to walk counterclockwise.”
Everything from grading papers to computer work to typing up worksheets requires more time than it did previously, but Bergman has found he is getting faster at those tasks.
He is putting off a decision about how much longer he’ll coach the Centennial team, hoping he soon will have a clear vision with which to see the future.
“I’m putting my faith in God and my faith in the doctors,” Bergman said. “What they tell me is what I’m doing.”
Three years ago, Bergman didn’t see a time coming so soon when he’d contemplate stepping aside as a coach.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.