Tribute: Ross, Eli and the 2018 CREW

Jennifer “J.T.” Thomas

It’s been a tough year. It’s been a painful summer. But now, more than ever, I’m in awe of our community. Berkeley can be a place where one can live with anonymity if they choose. It’s a beautifully quirky town where coaches are asked not to keep score of youth soccer games. The littles still come to soccer practice in jean shorts and tie-dye tees at the local park trying to avoid dog walkers and poop and poison oak.

After coaching for eleven seasons at CAL and playing four seasons back in the 80’s, I thought I knew Berkeley. But it wasn’t until having a kid and coaching youth soccer for fourteen years that the fog cleared.

In 2018, I coached the Mavericks CREW, the pinnacle of my coaching career. While many players went to BHS, winning an NCS State Championship, we represented Albany HS, El Cerrito HS, Richmond HS, St. Mary’s HS and Oakland Military Institute. Not to sound too mushy, but this team was special…magical. They were more than a team to each other. They were family, friends, confidants…a built-in support system to help each other better navigate the world.

We worked hard, played harder, and had a blast doing both. We trained three days a week, with one or two games on weekends, and road tripped to Clovis, Ripon, Modesto, Davis, San Diego, Phoenix and Vegas. At times it felt like I corralled a herd of puppies who would tackle, chase, tease, cuddle, and punk each other during water breaks and after training. Twenty-two 18-year-old young men who embodied the sheer joy of a six-year-old boy. At other times, I witnessed a group of modern, mature men who supported each other through challenging times in an honest and committed brotherhood. When one would go down to injury, sadness, or family crisis, the others would pick him up and literally carry him, if necessary, through the pain. They truly had each other’s backs, letting me know if someone was having a tough time, and asking that I go easy on him at practice or touch base with him before. When it was time for college decisions, which were usually posted during practice time at 6:00 pm, we’d stall out while the group waiting to hear their fate would circle up on the sidelines with their phones so they could celebrate and cry together.

 

This past summer, we lost Ross Schultz and Eli Kane, two of our CREW.

Ross was the instigator of most of the “puppy” shenanigans, usually chasing or getting chased by his teammates for subtle pranks that often went unnoticed by me. He wore a big smile while watching his mischief play out. But when the switch flipped, and he was locked in battle on the field, Ross was a fierce competitor, who led by example; he was the guy who played until the final whistle regardless of the score, always leaving everything on the field. Ross had a blunt and appreciated form of leadership, barking, and demanding more of his teammates during games and trainings. Off the field, Ross was a loyal friend who put time, energy, and heart into his friendships. As a parent, you wanted Ross to be friends with your kid; as a coach, you wanted Ross to play on your team; and as a friend, you wanted this likeable, loyal, hilarious, and joyful guy in your life.

Eli changed the way we played; he changed us. Eli was voted captain his first year on the team, just two weeks into training. He was not a yeller, nor a cheerleading captain; rather, he was positive, supportive, and personalized in his approach to his teammates allowing him to meet them all where they were. Listening was Eli’s biggest attribute; so, it wasn’t surprising that when Eli spoke at half time…we all listened. On the field, Eli was our team’s engine setting the rhythm of play and orchestrating the 11-man dance, in a position void of accolades and stats. He happily set his teammate’s plates, made recovery runs when they were legged out, and was the voice of reason and problem solver when things weren’t going our way. As his BHS coach said, “7 tenths of the earth is covered by water, the other 3 are covered by Eli…he makes me want to be a better man.” But the best thing about Eli was that he did all of this with an energy that was contagious, a full-hearted love of life, and that classic grin that we all tried to absorb.

My heart breaks for the friends and family of Eli, Ross and Dixie, and the other young people we lost this year. I learned that our community isn’t as anonymous as I had thought all those years ago, and that our village has raised exceptional young people. After experiencing cycles of sadness, pain, and anger this summer, I’ve decided to try to Live Like Eli and Ross, to enjoy friends, family, community, adventures and to spread that joy to others. It’s not the win/loss record that gets us through, it’s the friendships and choosing to live life to its fullest. Ross and Eli showed us how…and now we must honor them.

Note from Mavericks Soccer Club:

We have established a scholarship fund in Ross’ honor, and Eli’s family has created a fund in Eli’s honor. If you wish to make a donation, here are the links:

Ross Schultz Scholarship Fund

Eli Kane Fund

 

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