Marist Keeps Eddie Coombs’ Legacy Alive
Reminders come in subtle ways. They come every day. They could be in a passing smile of a stranger walking by on a city street. They can come in a particular song, or in the form of siblings interacting with each other. They can come in a quiet, a good quiet galvanized by moments of reflection. They come in candy and barbecue sauce sitting on a store shelf.
They come emblazed in a gleaming red No. 34.
Edward Coombs is running every day. That’s the way Eric Coombs and his family, and their extended Marist lacrosse team family, see Edward. They prefer to remember Edward in his salad days, running up and down the field at Marist, creating a welcoming environment with his infectious smile, and contagious laugh. Eric, Edward’s father, only had him for 19 years. And though the healing from Edward’s tragic death on Aug. 6, 2011, when he was killed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver, still resonates, so too does Edward’s spirit.
That comes in the form of the Edward Taylor Coombs Foundation, which has raised and distributed $85,000 in scholarship money to “outstanding scholar/athletes financial assistance to pursue their higher education goals, so that they can reach their full potential. The scholarships will support visionary leaders of tomorrow who display exceptional promise today. A second goal of the Foundation is to work with high school students around the issues of responsible decision making.”
Edward’s impact carries on with the Marist program, which continues to celebrate Edward’s legacy by encasing his locker as a shrine behind a Plexiglas cover that contains a pair of helmets facing each other and his No. 34 jersey, bestowed to the outstanding senior who best exemplifies Edward’s drive and determination.
The previous three seasons the Red Foxes carried Edward’s name on its roster, and when his class graduated, Edward’s name on the roster graduated with them. But Marist hasn’t forgotten him. Nor will the program ever forget him. If someone fails to pick up a groundball, they’re forced to pick up 34 groundballs as punishment. If a player is punished for an infraction, they have to run 34 laps.
“Eddie’s locker is right there as a shrine and it means a lot to us,” said Marist coach Keegan Wilkinson, who was a Red Fox’s assistant coach who recruited Edward and forged a special bond with the standout midfielder from Hatboro-Horsham High School (Pa.). “When his class graduated, his name was removed, but we’ll never forget him. I got the news of Eddie’s death a week, maybe a week-in-a-half after I assumed the position as head coach at Marist. I was the one who recruited Eddie heavily and grew very close to Eddie. When I heard Eddie died, that was a really tough call to get. It was really difficult, but he was such an amazing kid, from a really amazing family, that it brought our community and our program together. The situation brought awareness to the school, and sometimes it takes a tragedy for a reality to really sink in.”
For Eric Coombs and his family, wife Tina and daughter Erin, it’s been an ongoing nightmare that’s gradually dissipated through time.
“You never heal from it, but there is some point in time when you can move on,” Eric Coombs said. “You build on what Edward was about and who he was. Through the foundation we were able to do that, and as a family, it’s drawn you closer. You go through a tough time and you build from that and build other relationships. We all miss him and will never stop missing him. We were blessed in a way, and for me, it’s my faith in God and what I wanted for him and what I would have wanted to continue to do. Everyone has different grieving stages. It’s been a process. There is no blueprint. There are times we all go through our grieving and missing him, and the times we smile and realize how blessed we were for the time we had Edward.
“I’ve tried to talk to other people, because there have been a number of other losses at Marist and I’ve tried to provide some wisdom. But everyone deals with it differently. We’ve been fortunate to watch the foundation of Edward, and building on his legacy and who he was. It’s a tragic situation and not something any one of us wanted to go through, but every time we give out a scholarship, or every time I watch my daughter speak at a high school, or in front of a group of people about decision-making, it makes you proud. If Edward would have lived, he would have impacted lives. It’s been our way of dealing with it and watch the foundation grow out of tragedy. We’ve been proud and thankful for what we’ve been able to do. Edward touched a lot of lives, and he continues to touch a lot of lives. My family is all hurting, but we’re healing and doing the best we can.”
Tina Coombs is doing better. There are the moments when she’s shopping and will come across a certain candy Edward liked, or his favorite barbecue sauce that will remind her of her son. Then she’ll smile and move on, firm in knowing only going forward is the most cathartic way of coping. She’s shown great restraint in not lashing out, and justifiably being angry. She has every right, though chooses not to.
Tina, like Eric and Erin, has been incredibly strong through this heartbreak. You can’t help but be impressed by their resolve.
“It helps to know that we’re able to keep Edward’s memories going,” Tina says. “It’s just not a life lost with no purpose. We can continue the purpose through the foundation and the strength that comes through my husband and my daughter. There is a quiet, but a good quiet, and it’s provided better ways to hear things. I try to see what I can do and see what Edward would want me to do and see as a family how we deal with it. We have a wonderful support system with our friends, and our neighborhood. What is being angry going to do? It’s going to shorten what I have and make me hostile and not make us realize what we do have, and what we did have with Edward. We had great, strong years and I’m not going to destroy that with the life I want to give to my daughter by being angry. There are too many positive things going on. If one person can learn a lesson and pass that along to someone else, that’s enough. It was unfortunate that it was my son, but there is something to be learned from this.”
Erin Coombs, 25, is still struggling. Connor McNicholas, the driver of the car that night, was sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison in June 2012 after pleading guilty to seven charges, including two counts of vehicular homicide.
“I’ve grown more thankful of a lot of things, little things and what happened has changed the way I see things, which is more positive,” said Erin, who has a graduate degree as part of the foundation, and speaks publicly to area high school about making right choices. “Little things don’t get to me like they used to. When I speak to the kids, I tell them how life can change so quickly. Everyone around you can be affected by the decisions you make. My brother got into a car not knowing the driver was drinking. And just like that, all of our lives got turned upside down. I always think of Edward when I need him the most. There are negatives. I struggle being around friends of mine when I see them with their brothers and sisters. It’s challenging, because we were so close. Everyone thinks it’s not going to happen to them. At the core of all of this is my brother and upholding his legacy. It’s what keeps us going. My brother planted seeds in his life and our duty is to water it and make it grow.”