Soccer Fete Is For Lost Players

Posted: September 03, 1992

Eric Ross and Kristen Haney were kids who enjoyed life.

They liked Christmas mornings and birthday parties and eating ice cream on hot summer days. They liked ball games and picnics and family vacations.

They liked to watch TV, and laugh with friends and do all sorts of other giggly things kids like to do.

Sadly, they didn't get the time to do enough of them.

Eric Ross died of leukemia on Oct. 6, 1988. He was 6 years old.

Kristen Haney died in her sleep of cardiac arrest on May 18, 1991. She was 15.

They didn't pal around together, but they did share a common passion - playing soccer - that has prompted the Philadelphia Soccer Club to rename its ninth annual Labor Day tournament in their memory.

Both Eric and Kristen played for the Modena Park-based club, and in the same yearly tournament that now bears their names.

In 1989, the club named the event after Eric.

This year, and in years to follow, it will be known as the Eric Ross/ Kristen Haney Tournament.

The event, which begins tomorrow at fields throughout the Northeast, attracts 200 teams from as far as Canada and Virginia. The teams, which include boys from 8 to 16 and girls from 8 to 19, will play 375 games over a four-day period that culminates Monday with championship games in each age group.

For the parents of Ross and Haney, having the tournament named after their children is a touching display of love that lets them know others care.

"It's nice," said Len Ross, Eric's father. "It's nice to be remembered. Eric was happy . . . intelligent . . . smiling all the time. He loved school. And he loved playing with kids on the block. They would come and knock for him. All the kids loved him.

"It (the tournament) is a once-a-year thing that I'm glad to be a part of.

"Eric was a fighter. He got sick a lot, but he wouldn't give up. I remember when we came back from Seattle (where Eric had received a bone marrow transplant) and he played in his last game. He had always worn a hat because of the chemotherapy (which made him lose his hair). But in that last game he took it off. He only played about 5 minutes because he was so sick. But he took his hat off.

"Maybe he knew something."

Eric's parents Len and Linda knew what they had to do once their small son lost his nine month-long bout with the disease.

They buried him in his soccer uniform.

"It was our decision because he loved soccer," Len said. "The club had

sent him that uniform when he was in Seattle."

That following year, club officials renamed the tournament after Eric Ross, never dreaming they'd one day add another name.

Bill and Bernadette Haney still have trouble accepting their daughter's unexpected death.

"Right now we're still in denial," said Bernadette. "But in years to come, (the tournament) will be nice because it will be a living memorial. It's all we have left."

Bill, who has been the president of Philadelphia Soccer since 1987 and the tournament director since 1986, was not included in the decision to add his daughter's name to the tournament's title.

It was the collective idea of the club's board of directors, who invited the Haneys to a Christmas dinner and made a surprise presentation informing them of the change.

Bill and Bernadette think of it as one of the nicest gifts they have ever received.

"We're very honored," Bill said. "When it first happened, we didn't know how to react."

"It's nice," said Bernadette, "because the kids that played (soccer) with Eric and Kristen are still playing in the tournament. They remember them."

That in itself might have made Kristen feel a bit uneasy.

"She wasn't the type of kid that wanted recognition," said Bernadette. ''She would do things for others, help out, and you wouldn't even find out about it. She was very friendly and open. She got along with everybody."

In years past you could find Kristen, who attended Archbishop Ryan High School, both playing in and helping out at the tournament. She was one of many club members who did whatever it took to make the event a success.

The tournament requires a lot of hard work, but it is the only major fund- raiser for the club, which uses the proceeds to finance activities and programs for the coming year. All told, some 500 kids from 340 families in the Northeast, play for Philadelphia Soccer.

Bill Haney and countless others begin putting the tournament together in March, and log long hours to see that everything goes off without a hitch.

Each year it's paid off, as they've happily added more teams and more games.

But there is one thing that neither Haney nor anyone else wants to see added to the tournament ever again.

Another child's name.

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