Georgia State soccer trying to regroup after tragedies

Georgia State’s soccer team had just learned how to win last year.

It made the Colonial Athletic Association tournament or the first time. It earned its first at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.

Since that pinnacle, the Panthers have suffered losses deeper than on any field of play, losses that coach Brett Surrency is still trying to come to grips with.

Two players killed. Another player seriously injured. Three tragedies in three months.

Now, with the season set to begin Friday, the team is learning how to go on, and that the little things are so important.

A hug from a stranger. A random phone call. A simple red wristband.

Surrency calmly recounts the offseason that changed everything:

• June 27: Midfielder Tim Nixon, who had graduated in December, wrecked his car near Underground Atlanta and died.

• July 5: Defender Jordan Weise, who scored three goals last season, fell down a flight of stairs at home in Roswell, bruising his brain and causing swelling. He is recovering.

• Sunday: Forward Ayokunle Lumpkin, who scored five goals as a senior last season, had been shot after a confrontation in southeast Atlanta. Surrency got the call at 2 am, raced to Grady Hospital to join several players waiting. In the family room with Lumpkin’s mother, doctors told them that Lumpkin was dead.

Because the first two tragedies occurred during the summer, when the team wasn’t together, some players had to deal with the hurt on their own, without the shoulder of a teammate to lean on.

The players had reported when Lumpkin was killed. Those waiting at Grady heard the news first-hand from their coach. Those who couldn’t get there were called.

The team gathered for dinner later Sunday then attended a vigil in Lumpkin’s honor.

The next day, perhaps to try to forget about what they’ve gone through, or to remember their teammates, the team gathered and played soccer.

Surrency didn’t give them any instruction or coaching. They just played.

Tuesday afternoon, they went to a counseling session, then hit the field.

“We are just trying to do what we can to help these guys move forward,” Surrency said. “There’s no standard for this.”

For Surrency, 30, who is in his first head coaching job, his emotions come in waves. He has leaned on his wife, other coaches and grief experts to help him find the strength to help the team.

“It’s hard,” Surrency said. “I’ve not experienced anything like this. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to understand.”

He’s led the team in finding formal ways to honor their former teammates. There will be a moment of silence before every home game to remember Nixon and Lumpkin. Each player will wear patches on their jerseys with Lumpkin’s (22) and Nixon’s (25) numbers. No one will wear those numbers this year.

But it’s the spontaneous moments of compassion and love that Surrency said have helped the most.

He points to a red rubber wristband he is wearing with “Live a little,” written on it. That was Nixon’s favorite phrase. Softball player Chelsea Sparks had them made.

Assistant coach Dave Meiklejohn was walking through a parking lot, wearing a Georgia State soccer T-shirt, when a random student walked up and hugged him.

Surrency said athletic director Cheryl Levick rushed to Grady as soon as she heard about Lumpkin. Football coach Bill Curry left him a voicemail.

“Those are things that sometimes seem so simple but really are important,” Surrency said. “Everybody’s been incredible. It’s something that does really, really help; even the things that seem so minute. As much as we want to be able to [say], ‘This is it, this is going to make things better,’ it’s not the case.”

Surrency has no idea when he or his players will transition from thinking about the tragedies to thinking about soccer. Right now, that’s not his priority.

“Right now, even for our purposes, it [soccer] isn’t the main focus,” he said. “The kids’ well-being is.

“If soccer can be a step in the direction, to get them back to a healthy and positive mindset, that’s great. But it will be different this year. There’s no question about that.”

– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu

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10 comments Add your comment

GSU_MEX_ALUM

August 23rd, 2012
12:05 pm

Proud to see the Panther family helping each other through this difficult time.

My prayers go out to all the families!

WaycrossWizard

August 23rd, 2012
12:09 pm

I’m proud to hear the Panther athletes have such honorable and compassionate men and women in their lives. My extreme condolences to the families of these young men, their teammates, and coaches. God Bless.

GSU_2012

August 23rd, 2012
1:16 pm

I really hope that Athletics does a moment of silence at the first football game during halftime or before kickoff, and maybe make an announcement about the soccer game that Saturday to honor these fellow peers. I believe that this is something that could go a long way to support our soccer team.

GSU is in Atlanta

August 23rd, 2012
3:18 pm

Really hope that the fans come out and support the team this year, they really need it.

BariBlue

August 23rd, 2012
7:49 pm

Thank you for writing this article. The GSU Men’s Soccer team has been through so much due to these losses. My thoughts and prayers go out for the families and players.

GSU Alumni 1985

August 23rd, 2012
8:08 pm

Everyone who has ever played at GSU needs to realize that for the first time since Scottie O’Neill was there, we have a coach that can return the pride to the program. Get behind Brett and the entire team this year and support these guys. They get it and they’re headed in the right direction. GSU needs to get these guys on a soccer field downtown near campus and make soccer game nights a spectacle! This is the one sport that brings everyone together from all walks of life. With the diverse campus that GSU is so proud of, soccer would be huge draw if games were near campus! C’mon administration, make it happen. Get behind Coach Surrency and lets go Mens Soccer Panthers!

GSU is in Atlanta

August 23rd, 2012
11:02 pm

Everything written above is pretty much dead on!

Alumi

August 24th, 2012
12:47 am

If you would like to help with the cost of funeral arrangements you can donate to the Ayokunle Lumpkin Memorial fund at any Bank of America location, or by using the following link. http://www.youcaring.com/fundraiser_details?url=ayok&fundraiser_id=8064
Please help us give Kunle the funeral he deserves.

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