While I have loved coaching soccer for the past 30 years and have greatly enjoyed working with so many young athletes,
there is one aspect of coaching that has proved to be extremely difficult. As adults, we expect that all the youngsters
we meet will grow up and lead long, normal lives. Unfortunately, every few years, we are painfully reminded that
children are human and are not invincible. I have known several LMSC players and other local area youth players
over the years who have died at tragically young ages.
On February 19, 2008, I was busy at work when I received a phone call from one of my former assistant coaches, informing
me that a player we had coached for several years died in a car accident. Cole Ballay was 17 years old, a junior
at Germantown Academy. He was driving home from school that day, driving at excessive speeds and lost control of
his vehicle. He died instantly. When I received the phone call about Cole's death I cried for well over an hour.
Several days later, while attending his funeral with what seemed like 1000 other people, I cried again. The pain
one encounters when learning of the death of a kid is tremendous. I still keep a picture of Cole in my kitchen.
It is a reminder that children are not invincible and we must do what we can to make sure that they are prepared
to deal with the potential tragedies of the world.
In the fall of 2006, I received an e-mail from a soccer friend, telling me that a former player of mine
had died while jet skiing. I coached Brian Krisch for four years in the Delco League Select Program,
he was a talented soccer player and a great kid.
Unfortunately, while jet skiing in the ocean, he ran into another person while jet skiing and died. Brian was only
26 years old when this tragedy took his life.
In the spring of 2000, I was helping out with tryouts for our Under 10 girls travel teams. My daughter Hanni was
a travel team player in that age group. At the tryouts, I met a sweet young girl named Rachel Savett, the daughter
of one of our boys travel team coaches, Robert Savett. Less than a month after being selected for one of our
Under 10 travel teams, Rachel was at a friend's house. She had very bad food allergies and had to be very careful
about what she ate. Unfortunately, that day, she ate a pickle, causing her to go into anaphylactic shock and die.
In an instant, Rachel was gone at the age of 9. She loved playing soccer very much. Her dad later wrote me and
told me that when she was buried, she was wearing her LMSC jersey. I can't even begin to imagine the horror and
grief that Rachel's parents have had to endure since her death 12 years ago.
Back in April, 1991, one of the most bizarre tragedies happened to an LMSC player, an incident that made national
news. United States Senator John Heinz was in his airplane, flying over the town of Merion. His plane collided
with a helicopter which had been dispatched to check out a problem with the landing gear on Heinz's plane. The
debris from the midair collision came crashing down to earth. Much of the debris landed on Merion Elementary School
when children were outside playing at recess. The debris struck and killed two first graders, one of whom was an
LMSC player. Another youngster suffered severe burns all over his body. In all, six people died from the midair
collision. Several years later, after we posted team assignments and game schedules for our intramural program,
I received a call from the mother of one of the players in our program. The lady was calling to withdraw her
child from the program because her child's age group was assigned to play at Merion Elementary School. The lady
was the mother of one of the children killed in the plane crash. She said it would be emotionally too difficult
to have her other child playing soccer on the field where her child had died a few years before. I certainly
understood her request and made sure her surviving child's age group would never again play at the fields at
Merion Elementary School.
There have been several other young soccer players who died way too young. Some players died in car accidents,
some because of medical conditions, some because of sudden illness. Each year, LMSC has over 2700 different
children play in the club. It would be nice to think that they will all grow up to lead healthy lives, become
parents, grandparents and live to be 100 years old. But, the world does not work that way and too often I learn
of another tragedy involving an LMSC player or a youngster living in the township. I also hear of similar tragedies
to soccer players and other young children living in neighboring townships.
In 1996, a 22 year old named Aimee Willard was abducted and murdered not far from Lower Merion Township. Aimee
had been a star soccer player at The Academy of Notre Dame in Villanova and later at George Mason University.
The man later sentenced for that crime was a man who was out on parole for a different murder in Nevada. In 2000,
with the help of US Senator Rick Santorum, "Aimee's Law" was signed into law to keep violent criminals in prison
while awaiting trial. I never met Aimee, but I had several friends who did know her.
What is considered to be the biggest tragedy in our country's history involved an LMSC coach. John Overhiser had
been coaching for many years in LMSC. On September 11, 2001, John's work took him to a meeting on the 65th floor
of the World Trade Center in New York. John was in the South Tower when the first hijacked airplane crashed into
the building, about 20 stories above where John was at the time. Unlike thousands of less fortunate people, John
was able to get out of the building alive and safe. John would later write an article about his horrifying experience
that day for one of our LMSC newsletters. To see the article,
Click Here and go to page 18.
In November, 2002, our club had tryouts for our Under 8 Developmental teams. One of the players selected for
the boys Under 8 team was a youngster named Mick Horrocks. His father, Michael Horrocks, was the First Officer
on the plane which crashed into the South Tower that day. Mick lived in Delaware County and had not play in our
intramural program. He was new to LMSC so I did not know him before tryouts. Before the tryouts, I had heard from
the father of a friend of Mick's that Mick was an excellent athlete. When I coached him that winter, I could see
right away that the young boy was very traumatized by the death to his father. The boy struggled on the team. The
father of the friend of Mick told me that the psychological trauma Mick was going through was severely limiting his
ability to play sports. It was obvious that the 9/11 disaster affected so many more people than the thousands who
died that day. Mick's life would never be the same after that tragedy. Fortunately, from what I have been told, Mick
is now a strong contributor to his high school's lacrosse team. There were many more people, many children, who would
be severely affected for life by the horrendous events of 9/11.
The above list is only a short list of soccer players I have known who died tragically young. Tragedy is certainly not limited
to LMSC players. Back in the early 1990s, I learned of a player who the Gorillas played against for many year who was
skate boarding when he was hit and killed by an oncoming truck. Another player that the Gorillas played against, from a
different club, committed suicide around the age of 15. Everyone I knew from his club said that they never had the slightest
club that something like that would happen to him.
I'd really like to think that our children are all invincible, but sadly, stories like all of these listed above show that
children are prone to tragedy through a wide range of events. As adults, we hopefully do our best to ensure the safety of
the young people in our lives and we do our best to make sure they lead happy, productive lives. But, we need to know that
nobody, absolutely nobody, is invincible.