An empty spot in the stands at St. Charles East football games this fall will sting, but St. Charles East senior Mitch Munroe’s father is nonetheless front-and-center when it comes to the 2013 season.
There will be physical reminders – a fundraising campaign will be in full swing, and teammates are incorporating tributes to the late Scott Munroe on their game-day gear – but the memories swirling in Munroe’s mind will resonate deepest.
“Football season was the biggest bonding time,” Munroe said. “Before games and after games, we would talk. It’ll be hard, but I know he’s watching.”
Scott Munroe lost his battle with kidney cancer July 5, leaving behind his wife, Kelli, and four children, including Mitch. He was 53.
Since that day, the Saints’ season – which begins Saturday at South Elgin – has taken on a different tone.
The family continues to grieve, but also has made plans to honor Scott Munroe with a “Score for Scott” fundraising campaign. Saints senior tight end Phil Hopper, a close friend of Munroe’s, helped set the idea in motion, and numerous teammates and their families are fully on board.
Kelli Munroe recalled the hurt in Saints players’ faces at the wake, and their promises to remember the man who coached many of them in the Tri-City Chargers youth program.
“Everything has been so incredibly sincere and genuine, so much heart, that it’s overwhelming, it really is,” Kelli Munroe said. “The boys … to have Mitch’s back in this way is unbelievable. I don’t think I ever experienced anything from adults like the way these young boys are. They’re great, great kids, and I really think this year they have a different focus. I would be very curious to see how that all works for them because they’re playing with heart.”
East quarterback Jimmy Mitchell helped arrange for T-shirts with “Score for Scott” and “Never Forgotten” inscribed, which Saints players intend to wear undereneath their pads on game days. Whenever the Saints score – “any time we score a point, it could be safety for all we care,” East coach Mike Fields said – one idea is for collections to be taken in the stands in support of what likely will be a scholarship in Scott Munroe’s honor.
East athletic director Mike Sommerfeld said details were being fine-tuned leading up to the season about the scope of the program. A prominent banner, “Saints Supporting Saints,” will be on display at Norris Stadium.
“We as a school do a lot for raising money [to fight cancer] with the Kick-A-Thon, Volley for Cure, Hoops for Hope night,” Sommerfeld said. “This is just another way of expressing our commitment to helping out with those causes.”
Munroe, a speedy wide receiver/defensive back and kick returner, said the widespread backing from teammates has helped him move forward. That makes Fields a proud coach.
“Forget about football right now, this is a life lesson for these kids,” Fields said. “Life is bigger than football and these guys see that and they understand that. For them to do this for the Munroes shows what great character they have, and compassion.”
Hopper recalled a big football victory – well, big at the time – in sixth grade, from which the PA announcer’s “Hopper on the keeper” pronouncement was echoed for years afterward by Scott Munroe. The last time was early this summer, when Scott Munroe recycled the phrase yet again at one of East’s 7-on-7s. Hopper said that “meant the world to me.”
Kelli Munroe knows her husband has that impact on their children on a daily basis, even when it’s not vocalized.
“I can tell when [Mitch] is hurting but I think he’s putting all his focus into how he plays football his year, and I think that will get him through,” Kelli Munroe said. “It’ll be tough, my husband coached him since fifth grade in Naperville and up until his Tri-City days, and they’d go over [video] for hours. He seems good, kind of keeps to himself, but he shares a lot of his feelings with his friends and some of the dads he’s close to. I think he’s just going to bring it to the field.”
His teammates are poised to make sure he has plenty of company.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached ay 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.