The saying goes that sports are supposed to teach you about qualities that go far beyond the games themselves.
And if there ever was a student-athlete who defined those qualities, Ethan Pauley was that very person.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Pauley family, with the help of Shawnee State University and Portsmouth High School among many additional community members, will be holding its annual Ethan Pauley Futsal Tournament, which will start on 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning at SSU for the boys and on Sunday morning at PHS for the girls, respectively.
For Stephanie Pauley, it’s certainly a wonderful way to honor the legacy of a young man who shared a deep passion for the game of soccer in general.
“Ethan had a passion for soccer,” Stephanie said. “He played for Wheelersburg, but before that, we lived in Huntington, and during that time, Ethan played on a travel team called Huntington XFC,” Pauley said. “They bring a lot of teams into our tournament, which is wonderful. But even prior to that, when he was eight years old, he was playing soccer. He grew up with the sport. He put his heart and soul into that, and he did it well.”
That was certainly showcased in one particular instance before his death, when Pauley — after finishing up his final soccer campaign for Wheelersburg as a senior — formulated a team on his own by simply grabbing t-shirts from Walmart and stenciling the team names on the jerseys that they were to wear at the various indoor tournaments that they were to participate in.
“They literally called it the Walmart Tees because they got their uniforms at Walmart,” Stephanie said, laughing. “He used a Sharpie to stencil their team names on their shirts.”
While it may have been funny to those who heard about it at first, however, the Walmart Tees were no joke on the futsal pitch. Pauley, who was at the center of it all, rounded up student-athletes from all corners of the Tri-State Area, and proceeded to take home the Gobbler Classic, a qualifying tournament over in Hurricane, W. Va. just west of Charleston — without a team manager behind the group’s heart and passion for competing.
“He had developed relationships with these other soccer players that were his competition on the field when they played against each other,” Stephanie said, “but yet, developed and maintained those relationships to compile a team that was not only able to advance into the qualifier, but ultimately win it.”
When Ethan’s life was unfortunately ended prematurely in a hit-and-run incident in late January 2016 by a drunk driver, the Walmart Tees — the very team that Ethan started and made the connections to create — competed in the National Indoor Soccer Championship in Cleveland following the tournament-qualifying victories in Hurricane, and won that tournament, as well.
“They went on, scrambled people together, and ended up playing in that in Cleveland,” Stephanie said. “It was pretty special because you have all of these other teams with a team, a team manager, and established uniforms, and then you have the Walmart Tees with their name stenciled in on their shirts, no team manager, and a coach who had no previous soccer experience. It was pretty neat to see them in that.”
Beyond soccer, however, it was clear that Ethan was growing into a leader. A passionate member of the Wheelersburg Cheer Block, or ‘Burg Block for short, the rising senior was an honor roll student and was set to graduate with honors before the hit-and-run accident that claimed his life. Pauley was sledding under snow that had descended across the region at the time of the incident, which occurred on Jan. 22. He would turn 21 on Nov. 12 if he were still living today.
“As an 18-year-old, he was a normal teenage boy, but he also stood out in many ways,” Stephanie said of her son. “He was motivated, he cared about people, he cared about how they felt, and he was the boy that would always say hi to you. That was even true with parents. He cared about how people felt. If he knew that you were having a bad day, he would do something very off-the-wall and goofy just to get a laugh out of you.”
Seeing that passion firsthand has inspired the Pauley family, the friends that knew Ethan personally, and even individuals that didn’t know Ethan to help start what has since become among the more special tournaments that the Tri-State Area has had across any form of sports. In fact, the Ethan Pauley Futsal Tournament, according to Stephanie, was completely run by high school and college-aged individuals.
“We have a lot of adults involved, but we have more high school and college-aged student that are helping with the tournament than adults,” Stephanie said. “We pushed them as adults, but they outnumbered us and they pretty much ran that tournament on their own.”
However, those very youths and young adults run that tournament because they want to honor Ethan, and the game, in an appropriate manner. And make no mistake about it, that includes bringing people together through the love of the game.
“We want to use the passion that we put into sports as a way to help other people,” Pauley said. “That’s what we try to remember. We’re going to be there, we’re going to be playing or participating in what we all love, and we’re all going to be coming together as a community from all different areas in order to be working for the greater good of helping others.”
The money raised from this tournament will be raised in order to help grieving youths and their families across the Tri-State Area, according to Pauley.
For a review of the Ethan Pauley Futsal Tournament, visit the Portsmouth Daily Times website at www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com regarding reactions to the tournament. For more information on Ethan Pauley’s life, visit ethanpauley7.com.