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Coal City soccer remembers 2018 graduate Alex Armstrong

September 30, 2018

COAL CITY —

It’s often said that you never know what a person is truly enduring until it’s too late.

That moment hit this past Sunday when news came that Alex Armstrong, a 2018 graduate of Coal City High School, had taken his own life while in Oklahoma for Army training after alleged bullying by his roommate.

Armstrong was a proud member of the Coal City soccer team; and when the news struck the team, the Coalers knew they had to take action.

Knowing that senior night was Thursday, they made an easy decision to alter their already specially-altered jersey.

Wearing pink jerseys in honor of senior forward Austin Planeta, whose mother, Valynda, died from breast cancer, the team added a blue heart with the initials “AA” onto the jersey for their fallen former teammate.

In addition to the blue hearts, since October is anti-bullying month, everyone from the community at the game wore blue in honor of Armstrong.

“The jerseys were naturally just warmups and a way for us to keep her in memory,” Coal City coach Steve McCleary said. “But when it came to this game, we decided to add the numbers to the front of them and make it a game jersey. We got permission to do that, and adding the hearts was a no-brainer.”

After the team’s 2-1 overtime victory over Streator, teammates celebrated with some pizza and shared some of their fondest memories of Armstrong.

One thing that was unanimously agreed upon was that Armstrong had one of the most infectious personalities and a smile that never went away.

“Alex had a smile on his face every day and game, whether he played or not,” Coal City senior goalie Ben Hawkins said. “He was the loudest cheerer on the bench, always shouting and hyping everyone up.”

“He was one of the goofiest people you could ever meet,” Coal City senior defender Sean McGouirk said. “Whether he had people who did and didn’t support him, he always tried to make you laugh and make the most out of the moment.”

For McGouirk, the loss of Armstrong hit a little harder. Both of them enlisted together to be in the Army National Guard and went to the Illinois National Guard side-by-side.

They had last spoken just a few days ago, and one of Armstrong’s final messages to him was that he would be home in 14 days.

Amstrong is home now. His body was returned to Braidwood on Friday.

“I loved that kid so much; he was like a big brother to me,” McGouirk said. “We were going to deploy together. He had my back, and he knew that I had his; it was a very strong bond that we shared. It really hit home when I found out.”

As a soccer player, Planeta raved about the energy level and passion Armstrong brought to the team.

“He was a defender and would come out with more energy than I’ve ever seen anybody play with,” Planeta said. “He had the hunger to be on the field. He was my cousin’s best friend so we were close family friends. It’s very unfortunate what happened, and it’s a big loss for the community.”

McCleary always remembered Armstrong’s work ethic and dedication to doing what was needed to help the team.

But it was his genuine heart, polite nature and sense of positivity that made a lasting impression on McCleary.

“When he came back from basic training, you could see the difference it made in him,” McCleary said. “It was awesome to see. He had a lot of great friends on the team and it’s always hard when you lose a kid like that. He always smiled and had this positive attitude no matter what.”

“We’ll miss him. Once you’re a Coaler, you’re family.”

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