2004-12-24 / Sports

New Scoreboard Commemorates Two Lives

By Elio Velez

Bishop Kearney High School Principal Sister Thomasine Stagnitta poses (left to right) with Katelyn Lawler, Jen Lawler, Tom Lawler and Mike Griffin.
Bishop Kearney High School Principal Sister Thomasine Stagnitta poses (left to right) with Katelyn Lawler, Jen Lawler, Tom Lawler and Mike Griffin. The Bishop Kearney High School scoreboard has an inscription dedicated to Kathie and Chris Lawler, which says “thanks for the memories”. It is a reminder of how tight the bond has become between the Lawler family and Bishop Kearney after following the crash of Flight 587 on November 12, 2001, in which their mother andson died.

Last Tuesday, the high school had a dedication ceremony to two new scoreboards that honors Kathie and Chris Lawler, the mother and brother respectively of sisters Katelyn and Jen Lawler, who attended the school.

The ceremony brought back Katelyn and Jen, who starred on the varsity basketball team for Breezy Point coach Cathy Crockett, along with their father Tom Lawler.

“It was a nice dedication ceremony,” says older sister Katelyn Lawler, who attends the University of Scranton with her younger sister Jen. “It’s a nice gesture that the school did”.

Mike Griffin, president of the Bishop Kearney’s fathers program, led the fundraising efforts starting in December of 2003 to replace the deteriorating scoreboards. After a tough time gaining funds from local businesses, Tom Lawler, father of Jen and Katelyn, approached Griffin to help out with a donation.

Griffin wasn’t yet at the point of asking for a donation from the parents but he graciously accepted Tom’s help.

“We were at an away game last year and he came to me and heard I was trying to raise money for the scoreboard,” Griffin said. The scoreboard was a good memorial to the family because they were so important to the school.

Kathie and Chris were two of five people who died instantly on the ground when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on Veterans Day.

Kathie and Tom Lawler would be at every home game cheering on their children to victory. Now they couldn’t sit next to each other because they were so intensely into the game.

When Chris, then a law student at St. John’s University, would come to the games, the family would split up even further. Chris would root for her sisters from the opposite end of the gym from his parents. But their dedication and passion for their children always there says Tom Lawler

“I sat underneath the two curtains every game. My wife sat underneath the speaker and Chris sat underneath the opposite speaker”, Tom Lawler said.

“I’m not great to be around during the game. I tend to get a bit emotional”, Tom says laughingly. “My wife was a big cheerleader. Never had a bad word even if we were losing by 35 points, she would say it’s ok, you’re doing great”.

On Veterans Day, Katelyn, then a senior and Jen, a sophomore were practicing at Bishop Kearney. Crockett noticed something was wrong early that morning.

“We normally practiced at 11 but because we (assistant coach Kerry Hanley) had family to take care of so we did it early,” Crockett said. “We were 20 minutes into practice and I looked up at Kerry on her cell phone and looking distraught. She told me something happened in Rockaway”.

After arriving at Riis Park about an hour and half later, Crockett walked the players home. As they got near Beach 131 Street, Jen and Katelyn met up with their father, who was playing golf at Marine Park that day, and discovered the terrible news.

Crockett says that the team decided to wait until Jen and Katelyn were ready to return. Two weeks later around Thanksgiving, they returned to practice with the team and dedicated the season to their mother and brother.

The Tigers were bolstered by the return of the Lawlers and finished

as the New York State Class C State and Federation Champions. Katelyn would win the tournament’s most valuable player. It was an emotional ride that had an happy ending. “They kept black armbands the whole run. I had a feeling it was meant to be. It was really very special,” Tom Lawler said.

Tom welcomes the return of his daughters from their holiday school break to the new house he bought on Beach 134 Street. He’s not alone in the house as his son Brendan, a law student at St. John’s University, resides there.The girls decided to concentrate on their studies and have not played college ball. It hasn’t stopped them from talking to their father everyday on the phone.

Tom says there was never an optionon leaving Rockaway.

“My wife lived her entire life in Rockaway. I always used to go here in the summers growing up. I have too much family and friends to leave here”, Lawler said. “Someone in the eulogy (at St. Francis De Sales) asked me if I was going to leave. I said I don’t know what’s going to happen in life but I can say that I will live in Rockaway.”

We’re blessed to have a lot of support from Kearney and the Rockaway community. They’ve adopted us and they have never let us go too far down”.

If you ask him about Chris and Kathie, the joyous memories flow from him without hesitation.

“My son was always smiling. You’ve never seen him not smiling. He lost a bit of his smile when his best friend Charlie Herren (who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center) died. But other than that, he smiled and always took care of his sisters,” Lawler said.

“It was the quiet way she ran the home. She took care of me and them. She was very unassuming. I kissed her goodbye every day as I left the house. She was the boss.”

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