McCrabb: I only knew him for 13 months. But this teenager had a huge impact on me.

Journal-News reporter Rick McCrabb, left, only knew Dominic Watkins, 19, of Monroe, for 13 months before Watkins died March 1 after battling bone cancer.
Journal-News reporter Rick McCrabb, left, only knew Dominic Watkins, 19, of Monroe, for 13 months before Watkins died March 1 after battling bone cancer.

I probably never should have met Dominic Cornell Watkins. What a lost opportunity that would have been for me.

It was Feb. 24, 2018, and my wife and daughter were attending a baby shower. Not being a fan of such things — plus not being invited — I headed to Trent Arena in Kettering to watch some Division II boys basketball tournament games.

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On this particular day, Monroe High School was playing Chaminade Julienne, and it was near halftime when I walked into the arena. Toward the end of the game, a 51-31 Monroe loss, I glanced down the bench and noticed a player — still wearing his warmups — had his left leg amputated.

I had never seen him before and never heard of a Monroe player losing his leg. As a journalist, I had to find out more.

A few days later, I called Monroe High School and asked about this player, who, at the time, I only knew as an amputee. I was told that Dominic Watkins, once a promising football, basketball and track star, lost his leg due to osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, on Nov. 21, 2017, his 18th birthday.

For the next several weeks, I tried to arrange an interview with Dominic, but since he rarely attended school and had numerous medical appointments, we kept missing each other. Then he called one day. In order to graduate with the Monroe Class of 2018, he had to complete a Senior Project, had to be interviewed in front of his fellow Monroe classmates.

So there we were, sitting on stools on the auditorium’s stage, each holding a microphone. The interview lasted about 20 minutes. It was part conversation, part comic routine. We were strangers, but played off each other. He found humor that I had never heard of a podcast, didn’t listen to rap music and wasn’t active on Snapchat.

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I got the feeling I was the oldest person Dominic had ever met.

Later, Dominic grabbed his crutches and walked out of the auditorium with his longtime girlfriend, Adriana Browning, a cheerleader at Middletown High School. He visited with a few Monroe teachers and counselors, and we went outside and took pictures.

“Show his good side,” his girlfriend instructed me.

“I don’t have a bad side,” he said.

That was classic Dominic. He had a line for every situation.

Then I told Dominic about the McCrabb Open, a charity golf tournament I founded in 1990, and how we raise money to grant wishes for children who have cancer. We agreed to meet later and see if the charity could help.

I met Dominic and his mother, Alondra Johnson, at their Monroe home, and after much discussion, Dominic settled on touring New York City and attending a concert of his favorite rapper, Travis Scott, at Madison Square Garden.

In October, Dominic, his mother and grandmother attended the McCrabb Open after-golf party at Brown’s Run Country Club. I wanted the golfers to meet Dominic, put a face on the money they were raising. Dominic, of course, stole the show. He always did. I told the crowd that while cancer robbed Dominic of his leg, it didn’t take away his courage.

Soon after Dominic returned from New York City, the cancer came back. I visited him at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital near Christmas, and at the time, I was worried I’d never see him again. His hair was thinner and the enthusiasm in his voice had waned.

On Feb. 27, I received a text from Dominic’s mother. “Get here now. Dominic is leaving us.”

On this day, instead of working out of the Journal-News office in downtown Middletown, I was at our Liberty Twp. location, a short drive from the Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus, where Dominic was a patient. When I walked into Dominic’s hospital room, he was lying there, his eyes closed. He was holding a teddy bear. He looked peaceful.

There were about 20 people in the room, family and friends, a local minister and the hospital’s chaplain.

We said a prayer for Dominic as tears rolled down our cheeks, and the minister sprinkled a few drops of water on Dominic’s forehead. He was baptized as a young boy, the minister said, but Dominic wanted to be baptized as an adult. His mother sat at the end of the bed, holding Dominic’s leg.

Two days later, I got the text I dreaded, but understood was inevitable: “He passed away.”

I knew Dominic for just 13 months. The impact of some relationships can’t be measured in time.

RIP buddy.