UMBC mourns 'loved' Skalsky Soph guard's death after New Year's Eve party stuns team

January 03, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko and Jay Apperson | Roch Eric Kubatko and Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

UMBC lost a basketball player and honor student when Matt Skalsky died Monday. But Eric Hayes lost a lot more.

Hayes lost a good friend.

The UMBC junior guard, a team captain and Skalsky's roommate, was home in Tampa, Fla., when his father received a call from UMBC basketball coach Tom Sullivan.

"It was shocking," Hayes said yesterday. "I kind of broke down, but my mom helped me through the day until I got back to the airport. When I got here is when I felt it a lot, especially going back to my apartment and unlocking the door and seeing his stuff, his jacket, and knowing he wasn't coming back."

They shared the same major -- computer information systems -- and many of the same interests, including music and video games. They even went Christmas shopping together.

"I spent probably 80 percent of my day with Matt," Hayes said.

Skalsky, 19, died Monday morning after a New Year's Eve party in Darnestown in Montgomery County.

Preliminary autopsy reports did not pinpoint a cause of death, but medical examiners said Skalsky, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, did not die from a slight head wound he suffered at the party, police said yesterday.

Police were expecting further autopsy results -- including toxicology tests, which will determine whether Skalsky had been drinking -- within a week.

At a news conference yesterday at the university fieldhouse, Sullivan spoke of how sports can teach people about life, but not much about death.

"I don't think anything in my recollections of coaching has been as tragic to me as this event, especially when it occurs during the holiday season," a somber Sullivan said. "He was a well-loved individual. . . . Team members are very shaken."

Police said Skalsky was attending a party at a house in the 15600 block of Haddonfield Way in Darnestown when he became involved in a shoving match with another person about 1 a.m. Monday.

At some point -- police don't know whether it was before or after the fight -- he fell and injured his head outside the house. Emergency medical workers took him to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, where he later died.

Cpl. Courtney McFee, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County police, said officers were called to the party to investigate the injury and reports of underage drinking. She said police interviewed the 12 to 15 people who remained at the party, and were planning to interview others.

A team spokesman confirmed that one other UMBC player, sophomore Tony Mensah of North Potomac, was at the party, but no other details were available. Mensah didn't attend yesterday's practice and referred requests for comment to school officials.

Hayes said Skalsky wasn't one to be involved in fights. "He was always easygoing," Hayes said. "He liked to play basketball and he liked to listen to music."

UMBC players had returned Friday from their game at Florida State the previous night. They were given the weekend off, and Skalsky remained on campus rather than visiting his parents in East Lansing, Mich., where he had spent the Christmas holiday.

His parents were unavailable for comment yesterday. James Heos, a lawyer and family friend who was taking calls at their East Lansing home, said Mr. and Mrs. Skalsky were eager to learn the circumstances of their son's death.

"They're not holding up too well," he said. "We've heard a million different versions. All we know is there was a tremendous lapse between the time that he had been [sitting] somewhere and the time somebody thought something was wrong with him and called 911. When paramedics got there, he was dead."

Heos said the parents had last talked to their son on Saturday, when he called to say he had gotten a 4.0 grade-point average for the semester. They were concerned that he had a cold.

Skalsky had played in nine of UMBC's 10 games this season, averaging 4.9 points. He appeared in 11 games last season before being sidelined with a stress fracture in his right foot. He also was a member of the baseball team and an honor student whose hobbies included painting and drawing.

Susan Kitchen, UMBC's vice president for student affairs, said reports of alcohol use at the party hadn't been confirmed and "to speculate at this point would be unfair."

Funeral arrangements were incomplete. A memorial service is planned for sometime next week at the university. The team will wear a uniform patch in Skalsky's honor.

Charles Brown, UMBC's athletic director, said the team is hoping to attend the funeral in Michigan.

The Retrievers, 1-9 and in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, are scheduled to play Winthrop at home Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow night's home game against Liberty was postponed until Jan. 10.

"It's been a very hard last two days," Brown said. "There's no set way of dealing with something like this. You just take it day by day and let the wounds heal."

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