Fans' Notes A grieving coach found solace in the sport he had come to resent

December 20, 1999

One weekend in October, Jeremy Yelton, an assistant women's
soccer coach at Georgia State, sat down and wrote a seven-page
letter to the members of the U.S. team. In it Yelton, 23, told
them his story: how he had met and fallen in love with a woman
named Julie Ragan, who showed him that he could have a passion
for something besides soccer; how he had initially taken a job
as a Parkview High teacher and coach, forcing one of them to
commute four hours each weekend between Atlanta and her home in
Bristol, Tenn.; and how, last April 25, three months before they
were to be married, Julie was killed in a car accident on her
way back from visiting Yelton.

"After her death I lost my passion for everything in my life,"
Yelton wrote. "And I had not only lost interest in soccer, I had
also become bitter at the sport. I blamed myself, and my love of
soccer, for taking me away from Jewels."

Yelton was still grieving last July when he and his brother Matt
traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the U.S.-Germany
quarterfinal. "I don't know if it was because it was the one
thing going on in the world that interested me," he wrote, but
"I finally felt something other than sadness."

On July 10, while visiting Los Angeles, Yelton got a 7 a.m. call
from a friend, offering a free ticket--row 13, behind the north
goal--for the final that afternoon. At the moment the Americans
won the World Cup, he was standing 50 feet away, his arms
raised, hollering his lungs out in triumph. "I do not think it
was a coincidence that I was in L.A.," Yelton wrote to the team.
"When I walked out of the Rose Bowl, I was happy and excited for
the first time in three months. Thank you."

--G.W.

COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER

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