Tribute to a Friend Gone Too Soon

travis-stryker-family

Hardly a week would go by without Rebecca Stryker regaling me with tales of her family’s travels with her twin hockey playing sons, defenseman/forward Travis and goaltender Austin. The students at Allen (Texas) High School pursued their love of the sport and represented north Texas and their elite U-16 AA Dallas Junior Hockey Association (DJHA) Penguins by participating in numerous youth hockey tournaments nationally against very talented competition.

She absolutely loved to recall how well her sons in particular and their team in general had competed, as well as the laughs and stories that highlighted each of those trips. Prior to Thanksgiving, she told me about the approaching 2013 Silver Stick Regional in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her pre-tournament primer fed our mutual love of hockey, particularly at the youth level.

Unfortunately, our friend Rebecca is – to borrow from vocalist Usher Raymond’s lyrics at Michael Jackson’s memorial – Gone Too Soon. The 60-year old educator, wife and mother of three children was killed along with her husband James, 56, and son Travis in a head on collision in northern Arizona November 26. Austin survived the crash, and Stephanie, a junior at Texas A&M University, was not on the trip. The Dallas Junior Hockey Association has established a fund to support the family’s surviving children. All proceeds will go to Austin and Stephanie to cover costs related to the accident, and to their future needs.

That this accident occurred en route to the hockey tournament in Nevada is tragically ironic. Rebecca and James were deeply involved in the Penguins organization for the benefit not only of their own children, but for their teammates as well. They worked diligently, setting up and administering fund raising events, as well as shuttling the twins to their practices and games.

Needless to say, the news of their deaths slammed into each of her teaching colleagues – as well as the youth hockey community — with the force of a puck travelling at upwards of 110-mph. The Dallas Stars offered a classy tribute to the family, and a moment of silence prior to their Nov. 29 game against Chicago at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

As teachers of at risk students in the McKinney Independent School District, Rebecca and each of us as educators shared another common bond — our commitment to help our students overcome life’s trials and tribulations in the hope of preparing for a brighter future.

I was always truly amazed at the tireless devotion that Rebecca showed to her family, and to her students. Teaching at risk youths is far different than educating students on a regular campus. To be successful – and we all have our share of success stories in this arena — one must possess a healthy dose of patience and a hair trigger sense of humor.

I will never forget the artful way that Rebecca taught one class how to make ice cream as part of her science curriculum. When one of the students accidentally spilled some of the ingredients, Rebecca quickly directed the clean-up with her trademark smile and a chuckle. She was one of the most joyful people I have ever had the pleasure of being around, and will be missed by her teaching colleagues, administrators and staff members.

Fortunately, the stories and memories of this amazing woman will somehow enlighten our spirits, and keep her in our hearts.

I am told that some parents of the Stryker twins’ Penguin teammates made their way to the crash site upon hearing of the mishap to lend any support they could provide.

The Penguins team soldiered on, just as hockey players always do. Skating with heavy hearts and praying for Austin’s quick recovery, the U-16 AA squad captured the tournament championship. They won four of their five games, including two victories over the Valencia Flyers, 9-4 and 6-2, and defeated the Atlanta Phoenix, 12-1, and the Portland Jr. Hawks, 2-0. As a result, they have qualified for the Silver Stick International Tournament in Newmarket, Ontario (Canada) this January, where they will compete against the best teams from the United States and Canada.

I don’t know whether Austin will be back with the team, but I will be following the Pens’ progress online.

And I sure would love to have heard about her twins’ achievements and the team’s efforts from my teaching colleague, Rebecca Stryker.

Rest in peace, Rebecca. We love you dearly, and we miss you!

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