Some people love through food, others music, and some, love through sports.
When I first met Stewart, I wasn’t sure what to think. He would plop his blue chair down at my 9-year-old’s soccer practice on the opposite side of the field from all the parents. He wasn’t super chatty with anyone in the beginning. He kept to himself, but you could often hear him holler out to his granddaughter, “Come on Morgs!” Then silence. Then a few minutes would pass, “Morgan, get the ball!!” He had a deep and surly voice that was hard to mistake and you could hear it from just about anywhere, it was definitely a coach’s yell. He rarely missed a practice or game and we all got used to Stewart’s formidable sideline presence. It definitely never seemed to bother Morgan; it was clear grandfather and granddaughter had a very special bond. You could always see them chatting away as they walked off the field to the car after practice.
Their family was a busy one, with three kids playing multiple sports, dad traveled a ton for work, and their mom, my friend Sarah, still found time to coach their teams and work at the kids’ schools. If Stewart wasn’t taking Morgan to soccer, he was driving Kellen to jiu-jitsu or Jack to basketball. And he didn’t do it because he had to; he did it because he LOVED to watch them play and he didn’t want to miss a minute of it. He knew time was precious. Even as his health started to fail, he would still be at most games and even practices. I remember glancing up at a summer league basketball game to see him sitting there, cheering Morgan on. His cancer had returned, he was in a full-on battle against it, but to him, watching his granddaughter battle on the court was just as important.
I would often reflect on Stewart’s closeness with his daughter and how ingrained in their family life he was. It was quite remarkable and it made me yearn for a similar closeness with mine. And Stewart wasn’t one of those grandparents who only got involved after retirement, making up for a lackluster showing as a parent. Stewart was the real deal. He was just as involved or more when his daughter, Sarah, was young. She became a star soccer player and eventually played for UCLA under his guidance. She also coached at a local high school for ten years after her own career, and guess who was her assistant coach? Yep, Stewart. He was always right there at her side. Sarah spoke often of their close bond and how he had been a driving force in all she did in ALL aspects of her life, not just sports.
Over the years Stewart had dedicated hundreds of hours coaching dozens of teams. He loved making a difference and having a positive impact on young lives through sports. He unabashedly carried that ‘coach’ moniker with him everywhere. He would occasionally call kids from our team over to give them pointers, and he regularly spoke to my daughter. She would nod her head and listen intently. I would always ask her later what he said, so I could learn too. I was always moved that he took special thought and care to help her improve her game.
Last week, I attended Stewart’s funeral service. He succumbed to cancer after a 13-year battle. Although his granddaughter moved soccer teams a year ago, it was apparent Stewart had quickly made an impression on the new team too. Just as I was settling into the church pew and getting out my tissue, I glanced back to see Morgan’s new teammates filing in with their parents. It was midday on a Wednesday and most lived more than an hour away, but it didn’t stop them from coming. Nearly the entire team showed up. They were all dressed in their soccer jerseys and a black skirt, a touching tribute that no doubt Stewart appreciated from up above.