Love Wilton soccer pays tribute to former player killed in Iraq
By Dave Ruden
October 15, 2006
WILTON -- It has been six weeks since Nick Madaras' death, but the tears still well up in Jim Lewicki's eyes.
There are the constant reminders: the warm-up jerseys with Madaras' name on the back accompanied by the slogan "Band of Brothers." There are the uniforms with Madaras' old number, 14, emblazoned on the sleeves.
Mostly there are the memories of Madaras' smile, his work ethic, the way he could work a room and make everyone feel special.
"He brought such an intensity to the field with his dedication," said Lewicki, Wilton High School's soccer coach. "His commitment, his desire. He was everything you wanted in a kid, and when he came to the field he was all business."
Madaras, 19, a private first class, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on Sept. 3, a little more than a month before he was due to leave the country.
Madaras' death galvanized his hometown, and especially the soccer community that serves as a family-within-a-family. Madaras, a 2005 graduate, was a three-year starter in the backfield for the Warriors, and now his former team has been forced to carry on.
Even though there are just three members on the current roster who played with Madaras, he was well known within the town's soccer circles, and the Warriors have dedicated their season to him.
The team breaks huddles by chanting Madaras' name, and honors him by playing with the same steadfastness that was his trademark. Lewicki, who was an assistant coach during Madaras' tenure, said the Warriors' 5-2-2 start was their best in 11 years. Wilton is now 5-4-2.
"We still talk about him," Lewiciki said. "His picture is hanging in the locker room and we touch it before taking the field. I try to be as strong as possible but it is tough on me and I know it is tough on the players. But you have to go on."
Max Nachemson, Wilton's top scorer, was a freshman when Madaras was a senior. He remembers a player who expedited his transition to the high school game.
"Since I was a freshman I was always intimidated by the seniors, but he helped me not feel intimidated," Nachemson recalled. "He made me feel welcome. He always got us motivated. He never gave up on a play."
Kevin Hand, now a senior midfielder, took over Madaras' spot on the right side of the defense after his graduation.
"Nick was just a leader on and off the field," Hand said. "He was a very solid player. He had a way of bringing the whole team up. When he played I always watched what he did, and that helped when I moved to his spot."
Those who knew Madaras said they were not surprised when he made the decision to enlist.
"He was a very patriotic, military kind of guy," Hand said. "The way he trained, they way he want about himself. He was always working out. He was just a tough kid. You could see him joining the Army."
Everything was shattered on Labor Day, when Lewicki received a phone call from his athletic director, Christy Hayes, informing him of Madaras' death.
Lewicki put down his cell phone and cried.
"He was just a great kid," Lewicki said. "He came from a great family. He wanted to serve his country. He gave everything to everybody of himself. He was the most unselfish player I've ever met."
The extent of Madaras' reach was evident at his wake, when former classmates and teammates traveled great distances to pay their respects.
"I was completely in shock," Nachemson said. "I knew him well and was just really sad. He made an impact on me. I always think about him before games. During a game sometimes I'll look at his number on my shirt."
The effect has been equally dramatic for Wilton's girls team. Madaras' sister, Marie, is a senior and the starting center back for a squad that is unbeaten and a contender for both league and state titles.
"A lot of the kids knew him and played pick-up games with him," said Scott Neumann, the Warriors' girls coach. "The kids thought so highly of him and they love Marie so much. They've seen the pain she's in so it is still hard for them. I think the kids have used soccer as an outlet, but it is still in the back of their minds."
Neumann said there has been no tangible difference in either Marie's play or soft-spoken manner.
"She's always been a quiet kid," Neumann said. "I've never sat down and really had a long talk about this, but I am consistently checking in with her. She knows we're there for her and it is OK for her to fall back on us."
Lewicki said Madaras liked to try and intimidate opponents, and laughed at the memory of him once putting in contact lenses that resembled cats' eyes.
"He was always doing things like that," Lewicki said. "Even though he wasn't a captain he always led by example. And I know he's still here looking over us."
In a sense, the players who knew him said, Madaras has served as the Warriors' 12th man this season, and said his spirit may be an intangible factor to the team's strong start.
"Thinking about him gives us a little more spark," Nachemson said. "When you want to give up on a play to try harder."
Hand said the best way the Warriors can do Madaras' legacy justice is to harness their grief the way his former teammate would expect.
"This has definitely made the season a lot more important for us," Hand said. "We're definitely playing for a reason now. We're playing for our friend."
Copyright © 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.