Stepping down, reaching out

Erin Soulen relinquished her duties as head field hockey coach at South Carroll to spend more time caring for her young son.

From The Cover

September 21, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special To The Sun

Erin Soulen has been a part of some of the greatest moments in South Carroll field hockey history.

She started and played on the school's 1991 state championship team and later coached the 2002 state title team. Soulen then guided the Cavaliers to appearances in the state finals the following year and the state semifinals in 2004.

Several months ago, however, Soulen made the agonizing decision to give up coaching due to the health problems of her son, Jake, who turns 2 next month.

Jake was born with malrotation, a type of obstruction caused by abnormal development of the intestines while the fetus is in the mother's womb. He underwent three major surgical procedures before celebrating his first birthday.

Although he seems to have turned the corner and doctors told Soulen he should eventually be fine, she felt compelled to step down after eight seasons.

Junior varsity coach Brenda Strohmer, who had worked with Soulen and her teams for the past three years, took over as varsity coach this fall.

"This past spring I had to make a decision," Soulen said. "I decided to step down because I wasn't sure what situation Jake would be in in the fall. It was very hard. If I wanted to be selfish, I would have kept on coaching, but I've decided to put Jake first in my life.

"I loved getting out there, and I loved everything about it. But Jake's only going to grow up once, and I'm going to be there to see it."

Soulen, 30, still will have a hand in the South Carroll program. She's agreed to be a volunteer assistant coach and hopes to get to all of the games.

Having worked well with Strohmer the past few years, Soulen did everything possible to help the new varsity coach, from giving her practice plans and drills to answering her questions.

Soulen also gave Strohmer some space. She came to just one practice so that Strohmer could establish herself with the team.

"She started three years ago helping me with drills and helping me learn the game," Strohmer said. "I never played. ... , She's been like a mentor to me."

Jake's problems began during his first months when Soulen and her husband, Mike, noticed that their son was having problems eating. The initial diagnosis was that it was a case of colic.

But Jake kept getting worse. Finally, the Soulens took Jake to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was diagnosed with malrotation of the small intestine.

Most children with malrotation develop symptoms, often during the first month, and the majority of cases are diagnosed by their first birthday. Surgery is required, but normal growth and development usually occur once malrotation is treated and corrected.

Undergoing three surgeries delayed Jake's development, and Soulen dropped out of full-time teaching to be there for her son. She still kept coaching, however. The field hockey team knew about the situation and it became an emotional part of the players' lives.

"All last year, they'd say, `Let's win this for Jake,' " Strohmer, 37, said. "They feel for him."

Jake now can take about four steps on his own and is talking on a regular basis. He also goes to a physical therapist three times a month and his condition continues to improve.

"They keep saying that he'll be normal, and I feel 100 percent certain [of that]," Soulen said. "He's been very verbal and social."

The South Carroll players understand Soulen's decision to step down as head coach and are glad that she's still around the team.

"There's no hard feelings toward anybody," said Shaena Smith, a captain who's been on the varsity squad for three years. "It's awesome that she chose to help her son. He needed her more than we did."

Smith said the transition to Strohmer as the head coach has been a smooth one, helped greatly by the fact that most of the players knew her from the JV team.

"I think if it was someone we [didn't know] it might have been a lot different," Smith said.

Strohmer teaches physical education and health at South Carroll and said she's slowly settling into her new job as head coach. Her JV teams had winning records all three seasons, including a 6-2-3 mark last year with no losses in Carroll County games.

"I love the game, and I love the girls," Strohmer said. "I'm really committed to doing this right."

Many of the key players in South Carroll's run to three consecutive state final fours have graduated, and this season's team is young. They started 0-2, but Soulen has no doubt that Strohmer will succeed.

"I want Brenda to be successful," Soulen said. "She's a great coach, and she's going to do a great job."

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