Karl Soliman will never know how many lives he has touched around the Illinois Valley. Or maybe he does, we just don’t know how Heaven’s connection with us really works.
Karl, a seventh-grader from Mendota Holy Cross, was playing basketball Saturday in LaSalle. It’s a game he played with passion, along with the many other activities he participated in. He loved them all, friends and family say.
Then something went wrong. Terribly wrong.
The vibrant 12-year-old boy, with a full head of radiant red hair and full of life and spirit, known for his steady play at point guard and 3-point shots, “Kobes” they called them, collapsed on the court. According to the Mendota Reporter, Karl was transported by paramedics to Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru and then to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where he sadly passed away.
That’s not supposed to happen to 12-year-old boys playing basketball. Nor is the grief their parents, teammates and friends are facing. As a coach of students that age, and coaching kids for many years, I cannot imagine the pain they have endured.
Their biggest concern should be about whether they can win the game or not, and where they’re going to eat when it’s over.
The Soliman family and Holy Cross have found they are not alone with their loss and sorrow.
The entire Illinois Valley has rallied around them, showing their support in their time of grief and need with an array of compassion.
Many in his neighborhood have put up red porch lights in his memory.
At the request of friends of the Soliman family, many teams and schools have shown their support by posting pictures with kids wearing either red (his hair color) or black and white (Holy Cross colors) and posting them in Karl’s memory under the hash tag Karl’s Krusaders or FlyHigh30 (his number).
Putnam County Junior High posted a picture of its student body spelling out the letters “HC” on their gym floor.
The Mendota High School girls basketball team is holding a bake-sale fundraiser for its game Friday and asking everyone to wear red.
The Mendota High School boys basketball team, inspired by their No. 30 warmup shirts they wore in Karl’s honor, overcame a 23-12 halftime deficit, to won their first game of the year at Earlville Tuesday.
The St. Bede girls and boys basketball teams wore special “Holy Cross 30” warm-ups for their game. L-P joined the Bruins for Tuesday’s boys game at the academy.
Dalzell Grade School shared a picture of its students all dressed in red forming a heart with the hashtag 30 Strong.
The LaMoille-Ohio Lady Lions wore an assortment of red, black and white socks in a salute to Karl and held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday’s home game. LHS junior Mari Billhorn said that game and the rest of their high school careers would be dedicated to Karl.
The Princeton Logan Junior High seventh-grade boys team and fellow classmates posted pictures Monday in Karl’s colors and the rest of the school joined them later.
The LaSalle-Peru High School choir posted a song in Karl’s honor.
Many more tributes have been posted, including athletes from IVCC and students at Mendota Northbrook, Peru Parkside, Ottawa, Trinity Catholic, Ransom, LaSalle, Dixon and Waltham elementary schools.
As the Karl’s Krusaders page administrators noted, some posts have reached more than 20,000 people, with Karl’s story reaching far beyond his hometown.
In fact, tributes to Karl have gone viral, thanks to Sam Dekker of the Cleveland Cavaliers who tweeted this comment when he learned of the young fan’s death: “@Cavs and @NBA fans, help me in sending prayers and love to the Soliman family and the Holy Cross community after this tragic loss. Karl, 7th grader and NBA fan, died while playing the sport he loved in his tournament this weekend. Our hearts go out to his family at this time.”
I encourage everyone to keep Karl’s memory alive by wearing red or black and white. Say a prayer, or two for his family. And be sure to hug your child every morning and every night.
And while you’re at it, say a prayer for the Normal West freshman girls basketball team, whose team bus was struck by a wrong-way semi-truck on Interstate 74 returning home from a game Wednesday night. Two adults were killed, including the truck driver and the team statistician, and many of the kids were injured, though thankfully none severely.
What a horrific experience that was for the kids and families.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.