By Melanie Williamson
On the evening of Friday, November 17, word spread like wild fire across social media as the students and staff of the Vermilion Local School district along with the greater community learned that Coach Matthew Kobal had passed suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Kobal was the head football coach of the VHS varsity team, as well as a teacher at the high school.
The outpouring of reactions and support was almost immediate. More than a dozen districts including Clearview, Firelands, and Clyde posted statements of sympathy and support on social media. Many of Coach Kobal’s athletes, students, and parents of students shared their feelings and memories of Kobal. One student wrote, “blessed to have had the opportunity to know and be coached by you. You mean so much to me and have taught me so much. I love you coach.” A former student shared, “If it wasn’t for Kobal pushing me to finish high school and staying on [me] to graduate, I would’ve either dropped out or I’d still be there now…rest easy coach.”
School faculty and staff, parents and community members also turned to social media to reach out to others and share their thoughts and feelings. Student Resource Officer Brian Beckwith wrote, “In my view, Matt Kobal was a lighthouse…a guiding light for the students. When nothing else seemed to work, with some of the worst problems the kids faced, he was the light that brought them back to where they needed to be.” Basketball head coach Kurt Habermehl wrote, “Proud to say I was friends with Coach Kobal. Great coach and even a better person.”
Superintendent Phil Pempin shared that one of the many reasons Kobal was first hired into the district was his positive attitude. Pempin went on to say, “kids gravitated towards him. He was able to build relationships with them and gain their respect. It was very clear he gave a lot of himself without even thinking about it.”
In addition to being heavily involved in the VHS football program and taking on the role of head coach for the 2017 football season, Kobal also took a leadership role in the youth football program. Pempin stated that Kobal had a big interest in the whole football program and wanted to help develop the younger players, not just the high school team.
VHS principal Lisa Deliz shared that as soon as she heard what happened, she contacted the Lorain County Crisis Team, which specializes in helping schools and students handle a tragic loss such as this one. On Monday, November 20, there were ten crisis counselors at the high school, as well as volunteer administrators to help with the regular daily duties of running a school, so Deliz and her staff could be more focused on the students.
Deliz also shared that the day went as well as could be expected. Expanding on that, she explained that Friday night many of the coaches and student athletes came together at the high school to talk about what happened. Saturday morning, they opened the school up from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for anyone, who wanted to come together. Deliz stated that many parents, students, and faculty came along with community members and several Kobal’s former students. She felt that being given these opportunities over the weekend to come together and grieve as a community helped a great deal going into Monday.
Finally, she shared that she was happy to be able to show support for Kobal’s family and the community by having the funeral service at the high school. She said she has never done something like this before, but she was working with Riddle Funeral Home, Pastor Bob Gardner, and staff at the high school to make sure everything came together smoothly. The idea of moving the funeral to the high school came out of necessity, as the number of people anticipated to attend was significant. The service was Tuesday, November 21, in the high school gym. The visiting hours were from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. when the service was held.
Throughout the weekend, the stadium lights have been left on and the 2017 football season hype video has been played on the scoreboard as a tribute to Coach Kobal. The lights were turned off following the funeral service as students and community said their final goodbyes.