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Gaels lose one of their own in Meinelschmidt

Goretti swim coach, 36, found dead

Goretti swim coach, 36, found dead

May 31, 2008|By MARK KELLER

Erik Meinelschmidt was an imposing figure, a large man who used a whistle to get the attention of his charges.

The overwhelming sentiment among those who gathered at St. Maria Goretti High School on Friday evening, however, was that Meinelschmidt's heart was bigger than the man himself.

More than 60 Goretti students, parents, teachers, administrators and supporters were on hand at the Gael Center for an impromptu memorial for Meinelschmidt, the school's swimming coach who was found dead in his apartment Friday morning. He was 36.

Hagerstown City Police responded to Meinelschmidt's apartment at 54 E. Franklin St. at 9:37 a.m. Friday, Lt. Tim Wolford said. He said the death was not suspicious.

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Meinelschmidt was a Boonsboro High School graduate, but soon after he became the coach at Goretti, he was accepted as a Gael, athletic director Carol Brashears said.

"It was amazing to me what he knew about Goretti swimming," Brashears said. "When he came here, he said he wanted to bring it back. And he did. He brought it all back."

Brashears said when Meinelschmidt took over the program, there were seven kids on the team. In three years, the team had grown to 28 members.

"He just became a part of the Goretti family. He understood the tradition and the camaraderie right away," said Shane Hebert, a lifelong friend and former Goretti swimmer. "He was never afraid to ask for something if he needed it, and people were very receptive to him because of that."

Still, the kids were hesitant at first. They remembered him from coaching at the Hagerstown YMCA and at Hedgesville High School. He was "that guy with the whistle."

"Oh, the whistle. I heard so much about the whistle," Brashears said. "I told the kids, 'Just give him a chance. It'll be fine. Give him a chance.'"

It didn't take long for Meinelschmidt to win them over.

For nearly 40 minutes, team members and parents shared stories about their beloved coach and friend. Most had tears in their eyes as they spoke, but nearly all ended with a smile or a laugh.

"He was phenomenal. He brought the best out of everybody," Diana Jurand said. "He was able to get us to do things we thought weren't possible. And he was so generous.

"He brought out so much in everyone. His attitude was just contagious."

Meinelschmidt's mother, Karen, was one of the first to speak. She told members of the team how much her son talked about them and cared for them.

"Thank you for making the last three years of his life the happiest," she said. "You were his life. He couldn't wait for November and a new season."

The family has endured a difficult year. Erik's younger brother, Kirk, passed away in November 2007. He contracted spinal meningitis when he was 5 years old and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

"I just know Kirk ran to meet Erik today," Brashears said. "He RAN to meet Erik."

The family will receive friends Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home on Eastern Blvd. in Hagerstown. Services will be Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the funeral home.

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