Karle's Korner: A year after tragedy, the spirit of Philip Lutzenkirchen is alive

Karle's Korner: A year after tragedy, the spirit of Philip Lutzenkirchen is alive

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:

For many of us, time is cruel. The clock is always ticking and we can do nothing to stop it. We're all on the clock, watching our family members age and special memories fade. But for a parent who has lost a child, time can be a small blessing in a never-ending battle with grief. While thoughts of the child continue each and every day, time can ease the pain just enough for the parent to cope- to rise in the morning, to function. On this day, Mike and Mary Lutzenkirchen are coping the best they can, for it was one year ago that they lost their son Philip.

The phone call came in the early morning hours of June 29, 2014: Mike and Mary learned that their son had been involved in a car accident in LaGrange, Georgia. Philip, a young man known more for his kindness off the field than his ferocity on it, had been ejected from the back seat of a car. The former football star was taken from the Lutzenkirchen and Auburn families too soon, as he was 23 years old.

How would the Lutzenkirchen family cope? How could anyone? Gone was a son, a brother, a teammate, a friend. Mary surrounded herself with family. Amy, Abby and Ann leaned on one another. And father Mike? He went to work, building the Lutzie 43 Foundation. Mike knew his son was a teddy bear off the field and tiger on it. He knew his son had built a close relationship with the Lord. He also knew his son made mistakes the final night of his life. So if Mike Lutzenkirchen was going to grieve, he was going to grieve while giving back. Just maybe, Mike Lutzenkirchen could save a life.

There he went, from locker rooms to youth groups, from high schools to colleges, sharing his son's special qualities as well as his son's faults. Mike couldn't rewind the clock to put a seatbelt on his son. He couldn't rewind the clock to tell Philip and the driver of the car, Joseph Davis, to go easy on the alcohol. What he could to was something that is not easy for any parent: He could talk about what his son did wrong.

Says Mike, "As a parent, I have the responsibility to share Philip's story with young people in the hopes that no other family has to experience the loss of a child. Philip made a major mistake his last day on earth, but there is a bigger meaning beyond his tragic death, a lesson that resonates with his life and legacy." So over the last year, Mike has logged thousands of miles, his time driving to his next speaking engagement filled with thoughts of his late son. But those thoughts and memories have kept Mike going, and along the way, he has certainly saved lives preaching the importance of alcohol education and seat belt use.

Now comes some good news for the Lutzenkirchens in a year filled with anguish. The football field at Lassiter High School in Marietta, GA is being named "Lutzie 43 Field", in honor of the former Trojans star. It last week when the Cobb County school board voted 7-0 to approve the naming of the stadium. As the project is due to be completed later this month, the Lutzenkirchen's pain may subside if but for a moment when they think of the young men and women who will soon run onto that field at LHS.

Today may be a casual Monday to you, but it's anything but for Mike and Mary Lutzenkirchen, who lost their son exactly one year ago. How do they cope? As best they can, spending time at their lake house at Lake Hartwell, S.C. surrounded by family. As Mike told me Monday morning, "It's been a tough month. Philip's birthday was June 1st, then Father's Day, and now today. We're on our boat enjoying one another, but it's still hard to fathom that Philip is not with us." Yet as his pain continues, Mike is not slowing down, as he tells me he will be in Alexander City later this week to speak to a large group of young people about "Lessons From Lutz."

I didn't get to know Mike Lutzenkirchen until after tragedy had struck, but I can tell you this: I'm blessed to have met him, and I know exactly from where Philip received his kindred spirit. If you didn't have the pleasure of knowing Philip Lutzenkirchen, perhaps getting to know the Lutzenkirchens and/or their message would be a good thing. My advice? Make it sooner rather than later. Just remember not to let time pass you by.

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