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An athlete, a friend remembered

Published July 17, 2005

I hate these calls, which thankfully are few and far between.

After all, I write about prep and college sports. Unlike news, my stories are mostly bereft of crime victims, politicians breaking promises and businesses swindling customers.

Nonetheless, on the phone July 5 was a disheartened Karl Kukec, who coached Taylor Greene at the youth soccer level and later against her as Mitchell High's girls coach.

"It's so tragic," Kukec lamented of a July 4 car crash that ended Greene's life at age 20. "She had great grades. She had everything going for her."

Everything, it seemed, but a long life ahead.

Greene starred at Ridgewood High and Florida Southern College. An alumni soccer game will be played in Greene's honor in October at Florida Southern. A handful of players and two coaches appeared at last weekend's memorial for Greene to make that announcement. All wore Florida Southern T-shirts with Greene's No. 18 on the back.

"Taylor tripped over her own feet and had the biggest laugh over it," Florida Southern head coach Christine Rizzieri recalled of Greene's first week at practice. "Then she got up and played just as tough as she ever had."

Ryan Alvarez, an assistant coach at the Division II school in Lakeland, recalled how Greene adapted her playing style.

"I worked on drills so she would use her left foot to make her a scoring threat from both sides," Alvarez said of Greene, a natural right-footed kicker. "In one game she took a cross(ing pass) and put it in with her left foot. She pointed to that foot as if to say, "Shut up now.' "

Greene's achievements were numerous. She is the second most prolific scorer in Ridgewood history, her 230 points trailing all-time leader Melissa Wells. She was an honor roll student throughout high school and made the Sunshine State Conference Commissioner's Honor Roll as a college freshman.

Blond-haired, blue-eyed, athletic, intelligent - those points were noted by speakers at Greene's memorial. Some said she could have been a model.

Regardless of the focus, however, each speaker who shared a sentiment or story had one thing in common. Greene's spirit touched them.

Melissa Jones spoke of that spirit in a friendship forged when she and Greene became teammates as 8-year-olds in the West Pasco Youth Soccer League. Jones told of teammates nicknaming Greene "Barbie" and how the high-scoring forward would get even with opponents using that name in derogatory fashion by knocking them to the ground or scoring.

Mostly, though, Jones remembers a friend she could always count on - for honesty and integrity. Not to mention sending a pass or two Jones' way.

Greene made fast friends in college. Three of the "Fab Four" members from the Florida Southern team - Siobhan Perry, Jenna Cleary and Julia Crafton - came to the memorial to pay their last respects.

Greene's love for family, her endearing friendships and her zest for life - on and off the field - meant more to those who knew her. So much more than a goal, a game, a grade.

No one loved life and people more than Taylor Greene. That she is no longer around to enjoy earth's gifts is indeed a tragedy.

But there are fond rememberances of and lives enriched by those who crossed her path.

And that is a blessing.

[Last modified July 17, 2005, 01:05:20]

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