Players ranging in age from high school to the 50-and-over crowd, bound together by a love of soccer, lacing up the boots one more time to see if they still had what it took to play the game.
“Yeah, these young guys are in shape, but the rest of us aren’t in shape at all,” said LaFayette High School alum Michael Baker with a laugh. “We just finished the first game. We’re about to start another one, and we’re already physically spent.”
But for Baker and some 70 other players who came to LaFayette High School this past Saturday, the day was about more than just the love for the game.
It was about the love for a friend who will never play the game again.
When LaFayette High graduate Mark Geiger tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident on Oct. 3, 2009 at the age of 27, the game of soccer lost one of its biggest fans, and according to Baker, the Rambler soccer program lost one of its cornerstones.
“In my opinion, Mark was the best soccer player we ever had at this school,” Baker said. “Even as an underclassman, when he talked, other players and coaches stopped and listened to what he had to say. He was just so well-respected by everyone, and not just because of his soccer skills.
“He was someone you wanted to emulate and learn from. On and off the field, he just commanded respect without ever asking for it because of that presence he had.”
It’s that respect that led Baker and friends to organize the first Mark Geiger Memorial Soccer Tournament and establish the Mark Geiger Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“A couple of us got together and though it would be a good idea to just have a memorial game and maybe bring back some old alumni,” Baker explained. “Later, we decided to make it into a tournament, and thought of the idea for the scholarship as something good we could do every year to honor Mark, who’s pretty much responsible for all the good soccer in LaFayette anyway.”
Bruce Coker, who coached Geiger from the rec league to high school, said the tournament and scholarship was a fitting tribute to his former pupil.
“I saw pretty quickly that Mark had talent,” Coker said. “Coming from a soccer family from Austria, I knew he was going to be good and someone I wanted to build my teams around.
“We were kind of kindred spirits, and we connected from the word go. I really got to know him and became good friends with his family. He was an unselfish player that would play anywhere to better the team, and he carried that attitude off the field and into his professional life. I miss him dearly, and he’ll be missed by all of us.”
Another LHS alum, Ashley Chapman Cobb, got to know Geiger at Reinhardt University, where he played soccer while she was a member of the women’s basketball team.
“Mark was just a great guy,” she said while watching her husband Logan and brother-in-law Tyler play on Saturday. “He was an awesome guy who just loved the game. We’ve had some good times with him and his family, and this is just a great way to honor him.”
Baker said that with player entry fees, concessions, and other donations, he was aiming for a goal for $1,000 for this year’s scholarship fund, and hoped to double that total during next year’s event.
But more than anything, Baker said he hoped the event would be a way to keep Mark’s memory alive for years to come, and not just for the people that knew him best.
“Being able to do this means a lot,” he said. “But the best part is that someone who might have never known or met Mark is going to get this scholarship, and they’ll know what we already knew, that Mark was someone special.”
Scott Herpst is the Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.