It’s difficult for anyone to find a piece happiness out of a tragedy, but Mike and Gayle Schoonover may have found just a little joy after awarding the first ever Patrick Schoonover Award in memory of their late son. On March 4, Ben Doherty, a first-year Alexandria bantam A player, received the award established by the Minnesota Wild after Patrick’s passing. It's given to the Minnesota pee-wee or bantam hockey player who best exemplifies hard work, high character, loyalty, honesty, humor and athletic achievement – the hallmarks of Patrick’s life that ended suddenly late last year.
Last November, the Schoonover family loaded up the car to drive Patrick to the Battle for the Blue Ox Tournament in Brainerd, Minn. The ride up was light and full of laughter. Patrick had made the Eastview bantam AA team as a 14-year-old, something that was no easy feat. In the team’s first game of the tournament, he was playing well and opened the scoring for his club. Then, on a normal bodycheck, Patrick was knocked down. He never got up. Patrick had a congenital abnormality, a heart-related defect, which had gone previously undetected during numerous physicals. These cardiac irregularities resulted in his sudden death. It was a devastating event, not only for Minnesota hockey, but the hockey community at large. Patrick was a promising young defenseman, known for his hard slapshot and readiness to shot-block. More important, he was a kind and inspiring individual. “He was a fun-loving kid who loved to play hockey,” said Mike Schoonover, Patrick’s father. “He had that defender and protector mentality. He watched out for his teammates. He watched out for everybody.” Patrick carried this mentality off the ice, making schoolmates feel welcome and standing up against bullying. “He had an infectious smile that really lit up the room,” said Stacy Nelson, Patrick’s bantam AA coach. “He was always asking questions and wanted to get better.”
Patrick participated in multiple sports, playing soccer in the summer, but had begun to focus seriously on hockey. The summer before he died, he’d worked diligently to prepare for AA tryouts at the bantam level. Unfortunately, he would play in only six games. In response to his passing, the Schoonover family set up the
Play For Patrick Memorial Fund to help educate, diagnose and promote awareness of heart-related defects. “We want to educate and promote this awareness of heart-related issues in athletes,” Mike said. “And try to get a change in how medical providers and insurance companies view physicals, especially sports physicals for young athletes.” Patrick’s heart condition went undetected his entire life. Along with increased education and awareness of heart defects, the fund is working with the medical and insurance world to find a better physical that can identify these issues in young athletes. Should an ultrasound of the heart or EKG be required, the money raised by the Play for Patrick fund will be used to find ways to make these procedures more accessible and affordable. “The bottom line is we want to save lives,” Mike said. “Parents and coaches and players alike have shared stories and we’re just so proud of him because he’s had an impact on so many kids. We obviously miss our son dearly and would love to have him here.” Patrick was somebody who looked out for others, and the fund is one way that his legacy can continue. “I think hockey players, in general, are a classy bunch,” Mike said. “Those weeks and even months after Patrick passed, the classiness of the hockey community was unbelievable.” The Schoonover family will make the “Let’s Play Hockey” call at a future Minnesota Wild game, and a permanent display for the award will be set up at the Xcel Energy Center.
By Mark Kranjc