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."
Miss Mary worked full-time, first for the GEX department store and then in facilities management for the city of Hampton. Little League demanded just as much of her time.
"She could be doing the scoreboard, keeping the scorebook and holding a conversation with someone in the doorway," Holtzclaw says. "She just has it together."
Most famously, Miss Mary prepared full-scale, on-site meals for an army of volunteers when Phoebus hosted state and regional tournaments. Roast beef is the main course she recalls most fondly.
After Phil retired from the shipyard in 1994 and Miss Mary from the city soon thereafter, the McCoys devoted even more time and personal resources to Little League.
"She could outwork anyone down there, including me," Fowler says. "I've seen her work circles around others."
Field maintenance, concessions, sponsorships, coaching: No task was too small or large.
The politics and drama replete in all youth sports: The McCoys navigated with their hearts.
Vacations: To the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., of course.
Depleted league coffers: The McCoys reached into their own pockets, willingly and quietly.
"We made it a family affair," Miss Mary says.
When Phil passed, Miss Mary didn't consider leaving Little League, not for a minute. It was her refuge, a place where friends, and especially the children, made her whole.
"What I found most amazing when I first went down there was the kids that were playing at that time, their parents had played, and they all loved Miss Mary," Fowler says.
"Whatever was best for the kid is what I worried about," Miss Mary says. "Not what was best for the parent or coach or anything like that. It was, what is best for that child? And nine times out of 10, I was right. …
"There have been a lot of favorites over the years, but I don't ever point them out. I always say they're all great. If you mention one, you have to mention them all. I love them all. … I like the little ones. They're so much fun."
The advent of Amateur Athletic Union teams and the myriad options available to young people have affected all, and crippled many, little leagues. Participation and support at Phoebus have ebbed and flowed — the league still has about 300 players — and its fields fell into disrepair.
When the Norfolk Tides, the Baltimore Orioles AAA farm team, sponsored a field-makeover contest on Facebook earlier this year, McCoy and Phoebus went all in. Alumni from across the country responded, earning Phoebus approximately $4,000 in upgrades.
Holtzclaw attributes the outpouring to Miss Mary.
"It just blew her mind how many people she'd touched over the years," Holtzclaw says.
"Some way or some how I must have," Miss Mary says. "I'm not sure how. … I've been around for so long, I guess I'm a fixture. It's been a joy of love."