By Jay Cook |
HOLMDEL – When Holmdel’s football team lined up against Rumson-Fair Haven in unison last weekend, they were standing before one of the biggest home crowds in recent memory.
But the crowd wasn’t just there for football.
The entire Holmdel community was mourning the passing of Jack Dowd, a 16-year-old Holmdel High School junior. Dowd was playing lacrosse at Rutgers University-New Brunswick on Sept. 17 when he collapsed and died due to arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, an undiagnosed congenital heart condition, his family said in a letter.
The sudden death shook the school district and supporters came out in droves on Saturday afternoon to support the Dowd family and remember the young man.
“It’s a process. We’re all in this together,” said Shane Fallon, Holmdel’s athletic director. “We’re going to have to continue to grieve, to remember, and to honor him.”
And honor him they did.
Jack’s teammates on the Holmdel varsity lacrosse team sat at a small table, collecting donations for the Dowd family. In exchange, they were handing out wristbands embroidered with the “JD #9” in between two hearts.
Both the Hornets and the Bulldogs recognized a moment of silence prior to kick off. Not a sound was made. Jack’s younger brother Casey joined the Holmdel football team at midfield for the coin toss. RFH players embraced him and wished him well.
Those few moments hit home for many of Holmdel’s football players. Not only were some classmates, but one was a neighbor, and others were friends and teammates.
Johnny Christian, a Holmdel senior, was one of those neighbors. The two young men grew up on the same street and forged a relationship through sports. Basketball was their game and they faced off in more than a couple one-on-ones.
Christian was out on the gridiron for Saturday’s game, which had been postponed from Friday due to Jack’s funeral on Friday morning. Only one thing was on Christian’s mind when he took Roggy Field.
“Just play for him,” he said. “Put all my heart on the field and try to make it happen, just for Jack. Try to make him proud.”
Not only was Christian supporting his friend athletically, but he tried to do his part financially. After learning on Jack’s death, Christian took to the internet and set up a GoFundMe account for Jack’s family.
And as of Wednesday afternoon, that initiative had exceeded every goal. Over a span of eight days, 935 people donated a collective $74,801 dollars for the Dowd family.
“I knew financially it was going to be rough on his family after this tragic moment,” Christian said of the fundraiser. “I thought of the one way I could help his family.”
John Mackey and Sean McCann, both football players, also played with Jack on Holmdel’s lacrosse squad. Besides clearly remembering him as a friend, they said he was a competitor like no other.
“It’s really tough,” Mackey, a senior, said.
“We lost one of our teammates and a friend. It’s been really hard on us.”
“He always wanted to do everything the best, never wanted anyone to beat him,” McCann recalled.
In the open letter, Jack’s family said their son passed away playing the sport he loved.
“As heart-wrenching as it was to hear that, we found out what happened in the moments before he left us,” his family wrote. “He was on the field playing a sport he had grown to love, with teammates and friends he had come to admire and draw strength from.”
“Right before he collapsed, he was laughing with these friends on the sidelines, with that smile that we all loved and adored,” the letter continued. “He never regained consciousness, he never started breathing again. But he left this world with a smile on his face, and we would like to remember him that way.”
Dale Oehler, Holmdel’s boys lacrosse head coach, said Jack was an integral part of his team.
“He didn’t have a first, second, or third gear,” Oehler said. “He only had a fourth gear. It was true in games and in practices. He was just a joy.”
Oehler described Jack as a “quiet, introspective, and thoughtful” young man, and said his intensity on the field was hard to match.
He and Jack had discussed collegiate lacrosse, as it was certainly a realistic option for the longstick midfielder.
Since Jack’s death, the school system brought counselors in to aid students and changed athletic schedules.
But Fallon, the athletic director, said there has been a coming together of students from other schools all for Holmdel teams this past week.
The St. Rose High School field hockey team offered flowers and Raritan High School’s field hockey team presented their Holmdel counterparts with personalized wristbands.
St. John Vianney’s girls soccer team presented flowers and gave condolences when they faced off against Holmdel.
And Rumson-Fair Haven’s boys and girls soccer, cheer, dance, and football teams all supported their divisional foes in their own ways. In addition to presenting flowers to each team, RFH’s football team wore a “9” decal on their helmets, just as Holmdel’s football team did.
“I think the overwhelming response that we saw and how everyone handled this past week was really very touching,” Fallon said.
Oehler, the boys lacrosse coach, said his team will definitely honor Jack’s memory throughout the upcoming season. A scholarship is being funded in his memory.
The Dowd family also asked the community to honor the memory of their son.
“Please continue to keep Jack’s spirit alive for us and with us. Be kind to one another, let go of the silly, unimportant things, and focus on making others happy, and this world a better place. That is how he will remain with us all.”
This article was first published in the Sept. 28 – Oct. 5, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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