The Staples High boys soccer team has endured enough tragedies over the past decade that its coach, Dan Woog, could write a book about them. In fact, in part, he just did.
The Wreckers have been forced to deal with the deaths of players' parents and alumni of the program. In each case, Woog and his team have banded together like a family--a cliche, yes, but fitting in this case--rallying to support members in need.
The latest example occurred on Wednesday morning. The family of Sebo Hood, a captain of the Staples junior varsity team, had to contend with the death last Thursday of the eldest of Jim Hood's four children, Austin. He was only 20.
Not an equivalent tragedy by any stretch, but three days later, the grieving family saw their house near Compo Beach nearly destroyed. Jim Hood said there was 10 feet of water and five feet of sand on the property, 400 feet of fencing lost, three garage doors shattered and the front entranceway blown out -- damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"We are fortunate to live at Compo Beach, let's not be silly," said Jim Hood, maintaining a perspective and a sense of composure far beyond what could be expected given the circumstances. "But for some reason, while other houses here get hit, ours gets trashed. This is twice as bad as what happened during (Tropical Storm) Irene. This after trying to cope with the death of my oldest child.
"I cannot put this into words. You can't understand. You wonder how much you are supposed to endure."
Charlie Leonard, a junior on the Staples varsity team, grew up playing soccer with Sebo Hood.
"I heard about the tragedies the family had been through and I knew that something had to be done," he said. "So I texted coach and he took it from there."
Woog sent out a text message to the 68 players on his three teams. Wednesday morning, 40 of them showed up at the Hood's house, armed with shovels and wheelbarrows. Since the area was blocked off, Woog had to go through the Westport Parks and Recreation department to get permission for the Staples players to get shuttled over from the Longshore Golf Club.
"Charlie Leonard, who hasn't played a lot this year but will next year, told me about Sebo's house," Woog said. "The kids worked for two, two-and-a-half hours. Some neighbors and other friends showed up too. They worked really hard."
This was another chapter for Woog as he marveled at his players' collective sense of compassion.
"I think this was important for a lot of reasons," Woog said. "It was important to show support to Sebo in his time of need, important to support his entire family and it was important for the kids to be part of something bigger than themselves. If someone is in trouble, you help. Tangentially it was great for them. Rather than sit around at home playing Scrabble or (whining) about the fact that they can't text, it was important for them to be together as a team."
At a time of absolute misery, Jim Hood said a brief rainbow was provided by the Staples soccer program rallying around one of its own.
"They did something they didn't have to do," Jim Hood said. "They must have taken away about 500 wheelbarrows of sand. It was not a requirement of the soccer program. They could have had a day off. It points to the integrity and power of the Staples soccer program. What Dan and the program did was wonderful, compelling and very touching."
Leonard, whose father played for the Wreckers, said he felt a sense of pride as he watched his team work together like it does on the field, only away from the spotlight. This was bigger than the pursuit of league and state titles.
"It was very powerful to see the look on Mr. Hood's face," Leonard said. "It was really amazing. Coach told us at the beginning of the year this program was more than just a team, it's a family, and it was definitely true here. I was actually surprised by the turnout. I thought maybe just a couple of kids would show up, but everyone did and it was awesome."
Normalcy won't return to the Hood household for some time. Jim Hood said he still has to fly to New Orleans, where Austin lived, to settle affairs. Repairing his house will come much faster and easier than repairing his family's heart.
But at least for a few hours on Wednesday, the Hoods got a lift when most needed.
"The support they showed me means so much," Jim Hood said. "It's been an awful week, the worst week of my life. They didn't make it the best week, but it was a bright spot."
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