When the decision was made by the Sarnia FC Under-13 boys soccer side to try its hand at a highest competitive level in the province this season, little did they know that the challenges that would lie ahead would have nothing to do with wins, losses or draws.
Instead, this group of 12 and 13-year-olds came face-to-face with a reality of life when one of their assistant coaches died in mid-June. Domenic D’Agostini was only 49.
Coach Dom, as he was affectionately known in the soccer community, was a coach in the Sarnia FC system for a decade, including an assistant to Coach Dean Troiani with the U13 side for the past five seasons.
“It was traumatic for the kids,” said Troiani. “Some of them had never experienced death before.”
But, through their grief, the club has come together and become a more cohesive unit, said the coach.
“I was sad because he coached me in house league and his son (Christian) is one my friends,” said Sarnia FC U13 team member Blake Wallace. “I felt bad for him.”
“It shook us,” added teammate Alex Newell. “It knocked us all down.”
That feeling of having the rug pulled out from underneath his feet had another member of the team, James Brown, contemplating his future in the sport, but he continued on knowing what his former coach would think.
“After that, (the death) I didn’t really want to play,” said Brown. “But I stuck it out because that’s what he would want me to do.”
The players and coaching staff warmly remembered D’Agostini as a vocal coach who was never afraid to tell his players when they had done something wrong, but was also quick with words of praise.
They recalled how he would yell ‘beautiful’ for all to hear when someone made a good play.
“He was a guy who really pushed us a lot,” said goalkeeper Kedrich Vazquez. “It’s been difficult.”
But through adversity, the team has learned to look to the future with a grateful eye on what’s now passed.
“Every game that we play is for him,” said striker Matteo Troiani. “He’s looking down on us, watching us.”