A year later, still in hearts Lacrosse: For family and friends, the late Gerry Case is never far from their thoughts.

March 25, 1998|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Gerry Case should be sprinting past defenders, cranking another blistering shot at the goal for Loyola College. He should be teaching his brother Joey his best one-on-one move in the back yard before returning to school to kick back and relax with some buddies.

He should be having the time of his life.

Sunday marked the first anniversary of Case's death, and his family, teammates and friends are still attempting to cope with his loss.

On March 19 of last year, Case recorded his first collegiate goal and assist, just three weeks after celebrating his 19th birthday. The next day, he told Loyola coach Dave Cottle that he had been ill all night, then left practice early and went home to Arnold with his parents.

Almost 48 hours later, Case died of a meningitis-related blood infection at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"I don't know if it ever gets easier," said Case's mother, Effie. "People say you learn to accept it. But no, I don't. You learn to live with it.

"The toughest part was his birthday. It was very, very hard. He should have been 20. A lot of times I don't believe he's gone. That he's not at Loyola. You say to yourself, how does a healthy 19-year-old die in 48 hours?"

Effie and Gerard Case Sr. find comfort in the many ways people have paid tribute to Gerry.

Loyola has recently framed Case's No. 9 home jersey and placed it in its locker room, retiring his number for the four years he would have played for the Greyhounds.

"It's something we don't want to put behind us," said coach Dave Cottle, whose Greyhounds wear "Case No. 9" on the back of their helmets. "I think it's been rough for a while. I think they're young enough and scarred enough that they haven't forgotten.

"The difficult thing of it all is knowing that the pain we have had as individuals is just minuscule to the pain they have had as a family."

At a dinner two weeks ago, Cottle and the team presented the family with Gerry's road uniform, a seven-minute highlight film of his play and the game ball from their 1997 NCAA tournament victory over Notre Dame on Mother's Day. Joey Case asked to place the road jersey in the field house of Broadneck High, where Gerry won a state title by scoring the game-winning goal in the championship game.

Joey wanted to show his admiration for the person who taught him how to play lacrosse. That's why he wore his brother's college shoes and socks in last season's state championship game. Perhaps the most fitting acknowledgment came when Joey assisted on the game-winning goal, which happened to be Broadneck's ninth score.

At home, Joey has left his brother's room nearly intact, draping his Loyola jacket beside his bed. On his mirror, Joey displays all of Loyola's home ticket stubs from last year.

"My freshman year, I got to play on the same team as Gerry," said Joey, a junior at Broadneck. "That's something special that I'll never forget. I'm very thankful to God that I got to play for one year with him."

Loyola players say their year with Case bonded them; they have weathered the most devastating event of their teen-age lives together.

Walk into Tim Goettleman's bedroom, and you'll see a collage of Case on his wall. Ask Mark Frye if he has plans on April 9, and the number instantly sparks a memory of Case.

"I talk with him every day," Goettleman said. "I talk with him before every game on the field. He's with me every day. That's comforting for me."

A small group of players, whom Effie calls "her Loyola boys," went to the Cases' home for Gerry's birthday last month. They lighted a candle adorned with No. 9 and sang happy birthday to Gerry.

The same players have visited the cemetery, where a card at his grave reads: "Gerry, you are and always will be my hero."

"What he did in 19 years made more of an impact than most have had in a lifetime," Gerry's father said. "We're really proud of that. And Gerry's in a better place right now than we are. That gets us through. That carries us through."

Case had an outgoing, somewhat contradictory personality. He'd go out and party madly with friends, and come home and sleep with his Bible. Once Case took his parents' car to cruise the town, but immediately confessed what he did.

He even took Joey out drinking one time, brought him home and then watched over him the entire night in bed. In a shaky voice, Effie recalled how Gerry always kissed his brother good night and how someday she might be up to reading Gerry's freshman term paper on how he loved his home.

"My boys were very close," Effie said. "Gerry wasn't ashamed to admit that. He was so proud of Joey and how smart he was. Gerry had a struggle academically to get into Loyola, but, boy, he did it. And he would always joke that he was going to have Joey come up and tutor a bunch of them."

Gerry never struggled on the playing field, and Effie said her son defined himself through his athletic achievements.

He holds the goals record for a season and a career at Broadneck and earned first-team All-Metro honors in 1996. At Loyola, he was only one of two first-year Greyhounds to start a game in 1997 and just one of four to score a goal.

"If Gerry was here, he would be starting," Cottle said. "He should be out there on the field."

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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