Revisiting tragedy at Loyola
While working on an article for Wednesday’s edition on how teams deal with tragedy in the midst of a season, I talked to former Loyola coach Dave Cottle, who had a player die in 1997.
Gerry Case, a freshman midfielder who played at Broadneck, died of a meningitis-related blood infection on March 22 -- three days after registering his first collegiate goal and assist and a little more than three weeks after his 19th birthday.
Cottle recalled that Case played against Fairfield on Tuesday night, but called the coach on Wednesday morning complaining of vomiting. Case was admitted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was on Saturday when the Greyhounds routed Brown, 18-10.
"We all took the game ball over to the hospital that night, and they said that things were turning for the better," remembered Cottle, who is now the head coach at Maryland. "Then at 11 o’clock that night, he passed away, and we heard it on the news."
Practice was canceled for the next three days while players, coaches and staff met with counselors and administrators. Saturday’s game against Towson was canceled, and players wore Case’s No. 9 on their jerseys and helmets.
"Before every game, we would take our helmets off and point to the sky," Cottle said. "We had his number on. He helped us get stronger as a team. It was just a horrific situation. … We just kept working. Life’s not fair. There’s a lot of disappointments, but losing a member of our family in Gerry brought us closer. He helped solidify our team that year."
Loyola went 10-4 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals before falling to Syracuse. Cottle said any thought of canceling the season was dismissed after talking to the Case family.
"I can remember talking to the family and that was the furthest thing from their minds," he said. "They came to the games, and that’s why you have tremendous respect for them. I can’t imagine it as a parent, and yet they were so classy and so committed to the other kids. To this day, those kids from that team go and visit them."
Looking back, Cottle said the school was the perfect place to deal with the trauma of Case’s death.
"Loyola College is a tremendous place to handle tragedy because of the faith and the religion and the small school and the family atmosphere," he said. "I’ve always felt like that school could handle tragedy better than a lot of other places because it was a small, faith-based school."