Fourth from the left stands the family of fallen Lee County soccer player Madison Stokes — father, Steve; mother, Janine; and brother Evan — as they’re surrounded by members of the Deerfield and Lee County girls soccer teams Saturday night at Darton State College before the inaugural Madison Stokes Memorial Game. The Stokes and the players let balloons float to the heavens before the game to honor Madison’s memory. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Somewhere, Madison Stokes was smiling.
Even as the skies opened and drenched Saturday’s inaugural Madison Stokes Memorial Game between the Lee County and Deerfield girls’ soccer teams, there was a special feeling floating around the soccer community gathered at Darton State College.
In their first time playing each other in history, Lee County and Deerfield tied, 0-0, in a rain-shortened, friendly game — but it was an evening that was about much more than soccer as hundreds showed up to pay tribute to Madison, a member of the Lee County soccer team who tragically died in an car accident last August.
“That was a perfect score,” Lee County coach Dave Baltenberger said. “A tie was a good way to do it because (Saturday) wasn’t about who won.
“It was about Madison.”
The pouring rain briefly stopped for about an hour, allowing the teams to take part in pregame ceremonies and play 45 minutes of soccer before the downpour resumed, prematurely ending the festivities.
The event — which also featured inflatables, games and concessions — raised $3,800. That will all be donated to the Honduran mission that Madison and other members of Gillionville Baptist Church served at last summer.
“It was perfect,” Deerfield coach Aly Joslin said. “You just looked and there were hundreds of people out here, and we achieved everything we wanted to. We had a good 45 minutes of soccer, good food, music going on. It couldn’t have gotten any better.”
There were festivities, but there were also tears welling up in the eyes of hundreds as Steve Stokes, Madison’s father, kicked off the event with a 10-minute speech about his 16-year-old daughter who was taken from him nearly 11 months ago.
“She had a natural beauty about her,” Steve said as he addressed the crowd. “She understood what life was about and how precious life was. … The smile she had was so contagious. If she knew that picture of her was in (The Herald on Saturday) she probably wouldn’t have liked it because she didn’t have much makeup on. But she is probably grinning about it now. To me she was pretty.”
Madison was a lot of things to a lot of people. Lee County rising senior Courtney Ostrus knew her as a friend and a teammate, and Ostrus knew she was smiling down during Saturday’s festivities.
“Madison obviously had a very large impact on the community, and we were all very close to her,” Ostrus said. “It was great to be able to play for her.”
Ostrus and the rest of the Lee County team couldn’t look away as Madison’s father spoke about their fallen teammate.
“Obviously, when he started talking about soccer, I thought of her and all of our good times together, but when he talked about her smile or when she went and did mission work, I thought of her,” Ostrus said. “It’s amazing how much one person can touch so many people. She was a very, very special girl.”
Steve Stokes thanked the friends, family members and strangers who helped him and his family through the difficult months that followed Madison’s accident, telling stories how his daughter’s smile and spirit touched everyone she met.
“It’s unbelievable the way this community has pulled together for this cause,” he said. “We are all so close as a family, and this pulled us closer.”
After giving his speech, Stokes joined his wife, Janine, and his son, Evan, on the field to release balloons in honor of Madison along with both teams.
“I’m glad we could all get together in her memory, because I know soccer was her favorite sport,” said Deerfield’s Casey Kincheloe, who was the closest to breaking the 0-0 tie with a handful of shots on goal. “I played on her travel team, and she was a very good defender. She was a sweet girl, and it’s great that we were able to raise this much money.”
And it’s money that will go straight to where Madison’s heart was --- Honduras.
“I would have thought $36 would have been good when we started planning this, but ($3,800) is amazing,” Baltenberger said. “We want to keep doing this every year and grow it.”
The Lee County girls dedicated their season to Madison, and Saturday’s game was no different as they wore their “We Play For Madison” blue T-shirts, while Deerfield wore white T-shirts with Madison’s nickname, “Mad Dog.”
Joslin stood on the sideline barking instructions to his girls during the first half, but he said he never lost sight of what the evening was all about.
“My life has pretty much revolved around soccer. Since I’ve come to America (from England), it’s pretty much the only thing I’ve known,” said Joslin, who has been the DWS coach for four years. “When you stand out there for that reason, it really brings you down and reminds you that all this is is a game of soccer.”
Both teams had chances to score during the game, but it was the defenders— and a little offseason rust — that ultimately prevailed.
Neither team walked away with the public school vs. private school bragging rights, but Joslin said his GISA Lady Knights proved one thing: They can stay on the same field as the GHSA Class AAAAA Lady Trojans.
“They have so many more hundreds of students than we do, so we were happy with a tie,” Joslin said. “We look at 0-0, and the last time we stepped on the field we lost, 8-0, in the state championship. We defended a lot better (Saturday) than we did all year. It was jus the attacking stuff where we didn’t help ourselves out.”