MENDOTA - Holy Cross School 7th grader Karl Soliman loved sports. On Dec. 1, while doing one of the things he loved best - playing basketball - Karl collapsed during a tournament game at Lincoln Junior High in LaSalle and died later that day.
Brian DeBernardi, LaSalle Elementary Superintendent, said Holy Cross was part of an eight-team tournament, so the school building was packed with students, parents and fans on Saturday afternoon. He explained that Holy Cross and Ransom/Streator St. Michael were playing in the consolation championship game. “At about 3:15 p.m., there were a few seconds left in the game, a time out had been called and Karl fell to the floor,” DeBernardi said, reading from a prepared statement issued by Holy Cross School. “911 was called and people from Holy Cross who were at the game began administering CPR.”
Karl was transported by paramedics to Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru and then to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where he died.
On Tuesday, Principal Anita Kobilsek said Holy Cross School is so sorry for the tragic loss of Karl, who was an all-around awesome kid. As part of the healing process, she compiled a list of comments made about Karl by students and staff members. Struggling to hold back tears, Kobilsek read through the list:
“Always a kind-hearted person who never cared about himself but cared about others.
No matter what situation you were in, he could always put a smile on your face.
He never wanted to hurt anyone.
He never held a grudge.
He was always smiling.
He was funny and made a joke about everything.
He was always there for people when they needed him the most.
He was really a special gift to us all.
He was a hard worker and trustworthy.
He was on the honor roll since 5th grade when it started.
He was positive and had positive energy.
He had great faith in his Catholic religion.
He had a unique color of red hair.
He was an extremely loyal friend and we can trust him.
He was a great brother, student, teammate, son and friend.
He was very athletic.
In the classroom, he sat on the edge of his seat.
He never gave up.
One of the hardest workers we’ve ever known.
He will always be remembered.”
Kobilsek said Holy Cross has received so much support from the local community as well as schools and communities throughout the area to help them through this difficult time. “Just being together at school [has helped] and people have reached out, not only from our community but also the surrounding communities,” she said. “It has been so edifying and has brought us peace in honoring Karl. We’ve gotten so many e-mails, texts, phone calls and social media support - so much care has been shown.”
Holy Cross also received support from the Regional Office of Education’s School Crisis Assistance Team (SCAT). Kobilsek said they provided immediate resources as well as counselors, Kassidi Guerrero, Tyler Amm, Tammy Guerrero, Teresa MacDavitt and Joe Frye on Monday and Tuesday. The counselors will also be available as needed moving forward. In addition, she said the SCAT counselors were available to other area schools that were affected by the death and requested assistance.
Students and staff were also visited by two therapy dogs, Shadow owned by Lori Safranek and Gigi owned by Peggy Younglove. “They spent the day here Monday and it was wonderful for the kids and adults,” Kobilsek said, noting that the dogs would return on Friday and then as needed.
Kobilsek expressed her gratitude to Mendota Elementary District 289, where Karl participated in band, and Mendota High School District 280 for their great support and offer of resources as needed. “Parents and staff have been amazing, as well as all the surrounding schools we’ve been associated with,” she emphasized. “There is a great sense of peace in the building.”
A Facebook page, Karl’s Krusaders, was set up with the stated purpose of “collecting photos and memories for Karl’s parents, Amy and Shawn, and a place to connect.” The page also offers guidance to help the children who were present at the basketball game or those who simply knew Karl.
A request from Karl’s mom, Amy, was also posted on the page:
“We are beyond devastated at this time of sorrow for the loss of our precious Karl. He loved and lived basketball along with soccer, track, baseball and golf. Really any sport he loved and gave it his all. His little brother is devastated in losing his best friend and older brother. How can we return to the basketball court or play basketball without worry at this time? I am dreaming of having an NBA player come visit us to give us hope and reassurance . . . If anyone has a Twitter or Instagram account or knows someone that knows someone, can you reach to them or go through social media. Karl did everything 100% or more so let’s do this for everyone Karl has touched and for Karl himself.”
In preparation for Karl’s services, Kobilsek said students are making a paper chain using his favorite color, red, along with the Holy Cross School colors, black and white. Other schools will add to the chain using different colors and the chain will be displayed at the wake. “It’s just an example of the support students want to give and the care they’ve shown,” she said, noting that most Holy Cross students wore red on Monday in Karl’s honor. “He was just such a cool kid. We thank everybody - the local community, the schools, businesses and residents - for the care and love they are showing.”