The Suburbanite
  • Soccer soothes players’ pain following death of teammate

  • In February, 13-year-old Marissa Miracle, known best to those who love her as “Mitt”, died in her home following what friends and family say was a “tragic accident.” While her time on earth was short, the impact that Marissa had was great. She touched lives, changed lives and left a legacy that is still changing her entire community.

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  • Most wait entire lifetimes for miracles.
    Others are forced to let them go far too soon.
    Marissa Miracle’s name suited her perfectly. She was an unexpected and irreplaceable piece of heaven; The answer to a prayer her friends never knew they sent.
    Sometimes, though, God needs miracles, too. And when he does, he calls them home.
    In February, 13-year-old Marissa, known best to those who love her as “Mitt”, died in her home following what friends and family say was a “tragic accident.” While her time on earth was short, the impact that Marissa had was great. She touched lives, changed lives and left a legacy that is still changing her entire community.
    “She was friends with everyone,” Marissa’s stepfather Jeremy Kemp said. He paused and fought back tears, fought back emotion that would cause his voice to crack. Finally, gently he added, “I don’t know how to put it into words.”
    Words aren’t supposed to come easy when hearts ache. The tears, though, they always come easily. Especially when you have to say goodbye to someone you loved so doggone much.
    The girls on Marissa’s 14-and-under soccer team — the Manchester Cosmos — can’t always find the right words either. Even Adrianna Miracle, who still plays on the soccer team, can’t summon the strength to talk about Marissa, her sister and best friend.
    When the girls on the team pause and think of Marissa — their goalie — the tears roll down their cheeks and drop to the grassy field beneath their cleats. When the emotion overcomes them, they bury their heads in each others shoulders and sob. Together.
    They cry for what they lost.
    For who they lost.
    “She had the biggest heart on this team,” Marissa’s teammate Kenzie Ferguson said. “She never gave up.”
    Each of the girls on Marissa’s team have a story to tell, an anecdote that reminds them of who this young lady was, this leader and friend. They remember the way Marissa laughed, the intensity with which she played soccer and the way she would cheer them on as they attacked down field, away from the net she guarded.
    “She was the goalie,” Marissa’s teammate Caydon Lloyd said, “and that meant a lot. We worked because of her; She brought us together.”
    And she still does.
    Losing Marissa has brought the girls on the team closer to each other than ever before. They are learning — at a very young age — to say goodbye to a very dear friend. They grieve for loss they feel every time they take the field. And they hurt. Their hearts ache every single day and nothing will ever soothe that ache or fill the emptiness they feel inside.
    Page 2 of 3 - But this team, this team is strong. They are strong because they have each other.
    They are strong because they are, together, Marissa’s team.
    They know that. Deep inside they feel that.
    And when they take the field they prove it.
    After each huddle and before each game the girls circle up and place their hands in the center, showing they are united as one team. And when they break, they count to three and shout the only thing they feel they need to say: “Marissa!”
    “We want to make her proud,” Teammate Olivia Mattioli said. “We want to show her that we can still be strong.”
    The day Marissa died, the team was just that.
    They were set to play an indoor soccer match when they got word that Marissa had died. Head coach Eddie Kissner called the girls together and explained that they didn’t have to take the field.
    “We can go home,” he told them. “You don’t have to play.”
    But they did. They chose to. They wanted to.
    “We wanted to play because she would want us to play,” Marissa’s teammate Anna Wandel said tears rolling down her cheeks. “We play every game because she can’t.”
    When they play, they wear small reminders of their friend. The team has special T-shirts that pay tribute to the girl they called “Mitt.” The front depicts a soccer ball with a halo, the back a goalie with her angel wings spread wide.
    Many of the team members use the soft, cold felt tips of markers to write tiny eulogies on their hands and wrists.
    “Fly high Mitt,” one teammate wrote. “RIP 2-17-13.”
    Even though Marissa can’t be there at the games, she is there with them in soul and spirit. They feel her still because her name and legacy is etched on their hearts as surely as it is written on their hands.
    “We try to keep her memory alive,” Kissner said. “We keep her goalie shirt with us and save her a place on the bench.”
    Soccer was Marissa’s miracle.
    The goals she saved, in turn, saved her.
    Soccer made her feel like the person she was meant to be. When she ran onto the field and found her place in the soccer net, Marissa was home.
    “She was a girlie-girl and she never liked getting dirty or being in the mud, but you wouldn’t know that if you watched her play,” Jeremy, her stepfather, said. “She was tough and she put her heart into everything she did (on the field).”
    The fact that Marissa would find her greatest joys in a sport that requires running was something nobody would have ever guessed. Even now, when Jeremy and Marissa’s mother Kelly Kemp think of the sport and think of their daughter playing it, they wipe tears from their cheeks, smile and laugh quietly.
    Page 3 of 3 - “She never like running,” Kelly said with a half smile. “So when they asked for someone to be the goalie she volunteered.”
    Soccer has been her family’s miracle, too.
    For Marissa’s siblings Adrianna and Tyler Miracle and her parents the routine of the indoor and outdoor soccer seasons are comforting. When they return to the places that Marissa loved so much they feel closer to her, connected to her.
    “This was her only sport,” Jeremy said. “She always loved playing soccer and she thought the world of (Coach) Ed.”
    Being present at the games brings comfort to Kelly who says the soccer players and families have become an extension of their own family.
    “All the parents,” Kelly said, letting tears fall, “have been very supportive.”
    Never before has the word “team” meant so much. Never before has soccer been so important.
    And never before has winning been so sweet.
    This is, after all, Marissa’s game.
    This is Mitt’s team.
    “The game has changed,” Kissner said. “To say it doesn’t matter if we win or lose is not true; It still does. What we feel now is a pressure that we have to do well for Marissa. … We have to do our best for her on and off the field.”
    Reach Erin at 330-899-2872 or Erin.Pustay@TheSuburbanite.com.
    On Twitter: @epustayBURB

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