This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In the picture on the sweatshirt they gave me, they are so small. My basketball team. They are not small because they are in grade school. They are small.
And there, standing next to me in a triple-threat pose is one of smallest girls, one with red hair and an infectious grin: Emily Starkloff. She was one of a trio of players on my eight-person roster who either hadn't passed the 5-foot mark or just barely crossed it.
We had a perfect record that year, as we would all say with a smile: we didn't win one. But as I told each and every one of the girls at our end of the year party at the Dove, they should find a sport to play. Maybe not basketball -- more chuckles -- but they should continue to find a team to belong to because they were all such good teammates. They were there for each other and the only time anyone was benched was for saying, "We sucked."
Emily was never benched. She never gave up. She guarded her person tenaciously and got her share of steals. She came to one game right after she got her ears pierced and the ref that day was firm about the no-jewelry rule. We put BandAids over her brand new earrings, and she played. She had fun playing.
The kids split up, as parochial students do, heading off to different high schools. And my daughter would tell me she had seen Emily, but I hadn't seen her in, maybe, three years. Now my daughter calls and says Emily is dead, killed by a hit-and-run driver after she got off MetroLink. It was early in the morning. So far, police say they've found no witnesses.
Last month, the mother of one of my players died of cancer, and that was too soon.
But Emily was 19, far far too young. To Max and Colleen, her parents, I can only offer prayers and a fond memory of a youngster I was proud to coach.