It is easy enough for Coach Charlie Wright to explain to his Surrattsville High School soccer players why he must occasionally step away from practice and sit by himself, waiting for his cough to subside and his breath to return.

It is not, however, easy for him to tell his son William, 4, the chubby-cheeked foster child he and his wife adopted last year, why he can't always muster the strength to provide a comforting hug upon request.

"He knows that I'm sick," Wright said. "He says, 'Daddy will you be able to hold me a long time after you get well,' because he wants me to hold him all the time. I say, 'I can't hold you now because I'm too sick. Maybe I'll be able to soon.'"

Truth is, the odds are very much against easy-going Charlie Wright, he of the almost constant salty smile and ultra-unassuming presence. And he says he has accepted that. He endures the occasional coughing and breathless spells at soccer practice because being around children, or in this case young men, has been his life for three decades and because he believes he can survive his cancer through the end of the season.

The long-term, however, is another matter.

It was March 12 when Wright, 59, who is also an assistant baseball and wrestling coach at Surrattsville, went to the doctor complaining of shortness of breath and a nagging cough. X-rays revealed two cancerous growths, later discovered to be tumors, on his lung. Five days later, doctors removed a lemon-sized tumor from beneath his collarbone. And a tumor in his liver was found a few days after that.

The doctor's prognosis was simple: Wright's cancer was inoperable, one doctor used the word terminal, and it was up to chemotherapy and radiation to keep him alive. He was told to make plans.

He quickly retired from the Prince George's County school system, where he was just four months short of completing 30 years of service as an elementary school physical education teacher. Retirement meant he would qualify for a pension, which his wife Bailey and their five children -- two of them adopted -- could draw from if he died.

He got his life in order and began to wait.

It's been more than three months since his retiremement and he is still waiting. And thinking.

"I guess I must be frightened, but it's not like I'm going to roll over and die, but then again, it's always in the back of your mind, like you hope you make it to Thanksgiving," he said.

"But I'm not making any big plans for next summer's baseball season. I was supposed to go to a clinic up in New Jersey last year and I missed it because of the snow. They sent a letter saying that because I didn't go because of the snow I can go next year for nothing. I still wonder, will I be able to go? Will I be here? Although I'm feeling upbeat, I'm not that upbeat."

The sun has faded the long white banner that hangs across the blue curtains in Wright's living room, making it much harder to read the hundred or so signatures of sad, well-meaning elementary schoolchildren.

But Wright can't take it down yet. Three weeks ago, just when it seemed Charlie Wright was getting better, doctors found a new tumor, his fifth, in his lung. The "Get Well Coach" banner, with all its crayon-scribbled messages from his former pupils at Fort Washington Elementary School, stayed up.

"When they told me about the latest tumor, that was bad," Wright said. "because I was really getting well. And then, wham, they said that."

Things were going so well that he decided to return as head coach of Surrattsville's soccer team, a Maryland Class A state semifinalist the last two seasons. When he first learned of his cancer, he said he was sure he wouldn't return for another season.

His players at the Clinton school, however, had other ideas, even though they know that he took the coaching job five years ago largely because the school couldn't find a coach, not because he had any great knowledge of the sport. Still, they wanted his folksy, corn pone demeanor, not his expertise.

"We were worried about him not coming back," said senior Bill Thomas, one of five players in their fourth year on the team. "We always complain because we don't drill, we don't work ourselves hard enough. But even the thought of him not coming back . . . There is no other motivator or person for us.

"We always refer to him as Charlie Wright, the nice guy. There's nobody else we'd rather have behind us."

To hear that Wright is popular with his players, or, for that matter, just about anyone else he comes across, is not surprising.

He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He and his wife have made room for seven foster children, in addition to the three they had, in their Indian Head, Md., home. Their house, by the way, is adjacent to the home his family moved into in 1930 when he was 2.

He and his wife, who are both white, have adopted two children, John, who is Korean, and William, who is black and well on his way to adopting Wright's sense of humor. When asked if he wants to grow up to be a baseball player, William said quickly, "No, because I already am one," and dissolved into a stream of giggles. All this makes for what Wright calls his "rainbow coalition."

Said Thomas: "He's just the nicest guy in the world. He's the perfect role model for a father. We wouldn't trade him for any coach in the state or in the league."

What makes Wright popular with his players? Well, for starters, he's a softie. And he's that way with his friends, the players he coaches, even his own children.

"I can't even discipline the kids," he said, shaking his head in disgust. "Bailey has always done that. Ain't nobody scared of hearing 'Wait till Daddy gets home' at my house; that's for sure."

Somehow he has kept his effervescent disposition through his illness. He talks of not making plans for Christmas matter of factly, laughs when he says the senior citizens recreation class he teaches four hours a week at Charles Community College "is harder on me than it is on them," and jokes that his latest tumor was caused by "someone slacking off on their prayers."

Outwardly, he is still Charlie Wright.

"It's got to be tough for him, I know," said senior Kevin Marshaus. "But he isn't bitter. Not Coach Wright. It's just the way he is. I don't think something could really keep him down in the dumps for a long time. I don't think that could happen to him."

Charlie Wright is feeling better.

The two original tumors in his lungs have been reduced to mere scar tissue, the pain in his liver has subsided and the tumor near his collarbone has not recurred, so his regular chemotherapy and radiation treatments have worked, at least temporarily.

And he hopes more radiation can take care of the latest tumor in his lung.

Also, his team is off to a 2-1 start, the only loss a very encouraging 1-0 setback to Laurel, a Class AA power that was reclassified in Class A this season. As would be expected, Surrattsville has dedicated the season to its sick coach, even adopting a natty nickname: "The Season of Wright."

Yet, no matter how optimistic he gets, no matter how much better he feels, he knows his doctors are making no promises.

"I'm trying not to feel sorry for myself," he said in a brief, rare moment of depression.

"I think about {dying} a lot. Like, I would no more make plans for next summer than anything in the world. I guess, if you put it in time, I would have to say a year or two tops.

"Will I die happy? I guess so. There are a lot of things I would like to see go on, but I guess it wouldn't be too bad."