Never-ending, on-court ache

High schools: Basketball was a big part of the life of Sue Hoelter. With her death, her husband, Herb, and daughter Katie can't see a hoop without thinking of her.

High Schools

February 02, 2001|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Herb Hoelter estimates that he and his wife, Sue, shared at least 1,400 basketball games during their 31 years together.

As their children - Jeff, Sarah and Katie - moved through CYO, AAU and high school ball, Herb often coached them. They can't remember Sue ever missing a game. Family members spent almost as much time in gyms as they did in their Ten Hills home.

Herb now coaches his youngest child, Katie, 15, at the Institute of Notre Dame, where Sue was a fixture at games. During every game, father and daughter will inevitably glance up to the middle of the stands, where Sue always kept stats.

Then it hits.

"It's hard to look around and not see her and know that she's not going to be there, that she's not coming back," said Katie.

Early on Saturday, Dec. 9, a rare day off from basketball, Herb and Sue went jogging, as they often did, with their Labrador retriever, Callie. As they ran along Frederick Road, past the Baltimore National Cemetery, Sue was struck by a Ford Expedition and killed instantly.

Her husband was running next to her, but the vehicle never touched him.

"I had the dog, so I was on the [right], next to the woods, and Sue was on the sidewalk. I was literally two feet away from her. To this day, I don't know how it didn't hit me."

In the aftermath of the accident, which is still under investigation, Hoelter and his children have found solace in family, friends and faith.

Herb and Katie also dived right back into basketball. Two IND games were rescheduled, so they missed only two practices.

Sue, 50, was buried on Dec. 13. The next day, Katie helped the Indians beat Bryn Mawr, 48-44. Herb hadn't planned to be there, but he couldn't stay away.

"I wasn't sure if he was going to be back for the entire season," said assistant coach Andy Gaeta, "but it was one of the first things he wanted to get back into. It's been a good avenue for him, not necessarily as a distraction, but to keep him busy"

For Herb and Katie, basketball has been a mixed blessing. The practices are an escape. The games still bring too many memories to the surface.

"It's hard to catch that spirit and get it all back," said Herb, 50. "I'm sure it will come back. It's just going to need time."

"I even thought about not playing," said Katie. "To know she's not going to be there when I'm playing has really affected me a lot. But she wouldn't want me to give up, so I'm going to keep trying."

The Indians, some of whom considered Sue a second mom, have found several ways to honor her memory. They dedicated the Bryn Mawr victory to her and wear black bands on their uniforms.

Gaeta, at the suggestion of his wife, former IND player Melanie Vogel, donated a plaque that hangs on the wall in the Indians' team room. It is inscribed, "In memory of Susan Marie Hoelter, `Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all.' Play like a champion today."

Each Indians player touches the plaque as she leaves the team room for a game.

Sue's death has been hard on them, too, and the Indians (9-12) would like nothing more than to win tonight's 35th annual game against rival Mercy (13-8) at Towson Center.

"She was like the mother of our basketball team," said sophomore Colby Lee. "She meant a lot to us, and the Mercy game is going to be a win for her."

In addition to bringing the team closer together, her death has made the players think about their own families.

"My mom and I used to fight a lot," said junior Lacey Egerton, "but she says I don't yell at her anymore. Now, I make sure I say goodbye to her every day before I go to school. I say good night to her before I go to bed."

When Herb took the coaching job at IND in 1998, the team and the rest of the IND community became another part of the Hoelters' extended family. Once Katie arrived at IND, Sue began serving lunch and working on behalf of the alumnae association, even though she and Herb went to high school in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

"A lot of these kids really looked up to her," said IND athletic director Mike McEwan. "Nowadays, successful marriages are rare commodities, and there are so many kids who have just one parent. She and Herb were almost like adoptive parents to so many kids "

The Hoelters, high school sweethearts who met at a basketball game, built their lives and their family on a strong foundation of faith and giving. Sue had gone to Mass every day for the past seven years; Herb hasn't missed a day since she died. Both earned their degrees in social work.

In Ten Hills, their door was open to everyone from little kids, who knew Sue kept a candy drawer in the kitchen, to just about anyone who needed a helping hand.

Even Herb's business is a way to give to the community. His National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, an advocacy organization, develops ways to keep mentally challenged and juvenile delinquent out of state institutions and provides programs for them within the community. Started in 1977 with two persons and $1,000, the NCIA now has 450 employees and a $16 million budget.

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