By Peter Schwartz
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Growing up in Baltimore, Kyle Hartzell, like many other kids, became interested in sports at an early age because of his father.
But Timothy Patrick Hartzell was more than just a dad to Kyle during those early years in athletics. He was also his coach with the Baltimore Soccer Club.
“He was a big soccer player growing up and he actually was inducted into his high school hall of fame,” said Hartzell, a defenseman for the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse. “He coached me all the way up until high school.”
It was during his time at Archbishop Curley High School when Hartzell fell in love with lacrosse, and that was more than OK with his dad, who had also played the sport in high school.
“He pushed me,” Hartzell said. “I think he liked the sport of lacrosse more than the sport of soccer.”
The younger Hartzell made the right choice as he is now considered to be one of the best defensemen in the world. He’s won championships at every level, including junior college, a perfect 23-0 national championship season with Salisbury University in 2007, as well as indoor and outdoor professional titles. He won a silver medal with Team USA at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championship.
Hartzell is also an accomplished coach. After a stint as head coach at Palo Alto High School in California in 2009, he returned home to Baltimore to become the assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the Boy’s Latin School.
Then came an eventful 2013.
In November, he moved to Texas to become the head coach at Plano West High School as well as the director of operations for Rogue Lacrosse, a company that conducts camps, clinics and private lessons for young players.
Hartzell was far away from home, but he was always just a phone call away from a chat with his biggest fan — his dad.
“I was very close with him,” Hartzell said. “I talked to him and my mom pretty much every day.”
There was certainly a phone conversation on December 11, 2013, when Hartzell was acquired by the Lizards in a three-team trade involving Ohio and Chesapeake.
But two days later, Hartzell received a call that nobody ever wants to get. It was early in the morning. His family was trying to get a hold of him. There were about 10 missed calls on his cell phone from his mother and a series of missed calls from his brother.
“That’s pretty odd that they would do that,” Hartzell said of his mindset at the time. “My phone woke me up and I called them and they gave me the news.”
Kyle’s dad had passed away as a result of a heart attack.
The day before he died, Hartzell’s dad had been complaining of chest pains. Kyle’s mom, Deb, tried to convince him to go to the hospital, but he said no.
“He thought he was just getting sick,” Hartzell said. “My dad was a pretty stubborn guy. He did yard work and mowed the lawn and did all that stuff.”
The following day, his father had chest pains again. Hartzell’s mom heard him fall down in the bathroom, and he was gone.
“I didn’t want to believe it at first,” Hartzell said. “I got right on an airplane and flew home.”
When a loved one is lost so suddenly, it’s hard to handle. But life goes on, and one has to find a way to not only remember but to also honor that special person that has passed away.
“I know it was really tough on him as his dad was his rock,” said Lizards head coach Joe Spallina. “Kyle vowed to play for his father the rest of his career.”
Going forward, Hartzell wanted to feel the presence of his father with him every time he stepped onto a lacrosse field. So he came up with a way make sure that his dad would always be with him: Hartzell decided to place a piece of tape on his helmet that said “Dad.”
“I think that every day I step onto the field, it’s for him,” Hartzell said. “I play for him. I let it be known that my dad was a big part of my life. I know that a piece of tape is not going to bring him back but the piece of tape on my helmet signifies that he’s with me when I’m playing.”
A reminder of his dad can also be found on Hartzell’s gloves. Hartzell is a Warrior Lacrosse-endorsed athlete, and every year Warrior puts his father’s initials, “TPH,” on the gloves.
Timothy Hartzell was always proud of his son’s accomplishments and he certainly has extra reason to be smiling down on him these days. Following Sunday’s 14-12 win over Rochester, Kyle and the Lizards are off to a 3-0 start and atop the Major League Lacrosse standings. They return home to Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University on Friday, May 8, to play the Boston Cannons.
The relationship between any parent and a child is very special. When it comes to sports, the connection between a father and son is unique. Whether it’s having a catch, going to a game, or just having a chat, there’s a bond that can never be broken.
It’s something Timothy and Kyle Hartzell will always share.