Stunned league mourns coach killed by lightning

June 17, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

The game of baseball lost a great coach and community worker Wednesday when James Marc Rickels of Sykesville was fatally struck by lightning after a Little League game, friends and league officials said yesterday.

"He was out there for the kids, not some male ego thing," said Wayne Hollenbaugh, vice president of the 75-team Sykesville Baseball League. "He was there to teach them baseball, ethics and all-around fair play.

"I wish we could have 75 other [coaches] just like him."

Witnesses said Mr. Rickels, 34, was struck after canceling the game he had coached for his 8-year-old son, Brian. The game had been delayed and players took cover for about 15 minutes when a storm blew into the area; play resumed when the sky cleared, league officials said.

Games were finally called off when lightning hit the league's clubhouse at the Obrecht Road ball fields. Mr. Rickels, who was gathering equipment off the field with several other coaches, VTC was struck by a second bolt of lightning in the area.

Most of the children were off the field by that time, officials said.

"I heard this sizzling sound as it came down the backstop that's attached to the clubhouse," said Rick Lippert, who was working in the league's snack bar with his wife, Sue, Wednesday night.

"There was a clear, blue sky and the sun was shining at the time the bolt hit the clubhouse," said Mr. Hollenbaugh, who was also working in the snack bar that evening.

"We jumped to the [public address] system to clear the fields, and just that quick a second bolt hit," he said. "Then we heard shouts to call 911, that someone was down."

A local paramedic whose son plays on a Sykesville league team and several nurses immediately began trying to revive Mr. Rickels, while another parent with a cellular phone called for help, Mr. Hollenbaugh said.

But witnesses said they believe it was too late.

"The ambulance was there within five minutes," Mr. Lippert said. "But I think he was probably dead [before observers tried to revive him]. He probably didn't know what hit him."

Youth sports in general were an avocation for Mr. Rickels, who coached baseball and soccer for Brian and his fiancee's 12-year-old son, Michael Campbell, Mr. Lippert said.

Mr. Rickels also helped with a local football league, he said.

"He took great pride in coaching the kids and teaching them the game," Mr. Lippert said. ". . . That was his recreation, to go to the fields and help out."

"He was Mr. Baseball," said Beverly Cochran, a fellow coach whose children were at the field Wednesday night. "He'd come up and do anything to help you out, any time."

Sykesville league officials said lightning regulations, which call for delaying a game and seeking shelter for 15 to 30 minutes if a storm approaches, had been followed Wednesday night.

However, the league's board of directors planned to meet last night to review regulations and see if they could be made safer.

"We've had those procedures for ever," said Harry O'Sullivan, a league umpire who said Sykesville follows official Little League storm guidelines.

"Now, we'll probably overreact," he said. "Every time somebody sees lightning, they'll just cancel the game."

Mr. Hollenbaugh said the group also expected to discuss canceling the rest of the season and starting a memorial fund for Mr. Rickels' and his fiancee's children.

"We'll probably have a suspension of games out of respect for him," Mr. Hollenbaugh said. "We're at the play-offs now, so we'll have to decide whether to continue."

"Ruth [Mr. Rickels' fiancee] has told me that she appreciates all the efforts and thoughts that people have given to her."

Children at area schools who wanted to talk about the incident met with crisis counselors and principals yesterday morning, parents said.

"There were many children at Carrolltowne Elementary that needed looking after," said Ms. Cochran, who was at the school yesterday morning.

The meeting "was very crowded," she said. "I think it was a very wise thing to do because some children witnessed the incident.

"There was support for our children immediately, and I think that was wonderful."

Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at the Charles L. Stevens Funeral Home, 1501 Fort Ave., Baltimore. The funeral will be at 9 a.m. tomorrow at St. Clements Church in Landsdowne, with burial at the Holy Cross Cemetery.

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