Kelsey Harris was full of life. She loved her school. She loved her zebra Beanie Baby, Ziggy. And she loved sports – especially soccer and baseball.
And she would have loved the soccer game being played in her honor.
“She would love it,” said Beckman High School special education teacher Misty Moon, choking back tears. Moon was Kelsey’s teacher for the 1 1/2 years after the teenager’s diagnosis of Lafora disease, an extremely rare and fatal genetic, neurodegenerative disorder that is a severe form of epilepsy. “She liked attention and she loved interacting with people.”
During the halftime portion of the Kelsey Harris Memorial Cup, hosted at Beckman High in Irvine on May 19, Kelsey’s dad, Frank, told the crowd of students and law enforcement spectators and soccer players how much Kelsey would have enjoyed participating in the event on the soccer field.
“It’s a bittersweet event for us,” he told the crowd. “She loved soccer and she loved playing for Beckman. … We buried her wearing her soccer jersey.”
In its third year, the Kelsey Harris Memorial Cup brings together Beckman High School varsity soccer players to compete against Irvine and Tustin police and civilian staff to raise money for research and awareness of Lafora disease – which is unknown to most people.
Because of the rarity of the disease, fundraising ends up falling on the friends and families of those directly affected, said Frank.
In the event’s first year, $600 was raised for Lafora research and last year, more than $1,000 was raised. This year, Tustin Police Officer Chuck Mitchell, who founded the event, presented two checks to the Harris family endorsed to Chelsea’s Hope – Lafora Children Research Fund from the Tustin Police Department Association and Irvine Police Department Association, totaling more than $1,000. The funds were raised through donations from each department, as well as T-shirt and wristband sales.
The T-shirts, worn in green by the law enforcement soccer players and in purple by the students playing against them, were designed by Beckman senior Jorge Ochoa, an art and design student.
“I know about what happened to her and I know her favorite sport was actually soccer,” he said. “I wanted to make it special for her.”
The soccer game not only honors Kelsey and helps raise Lafora awareness and funds, but it serves as a way for law enforcement to interact with students in a positive environment, showing the kids that cops are just regular people. That was the original idea Mitchell had for starting the event.
“I always had the idea of just playing a regular soccer game of cop vs. kids,” he said. “Because a lot of [the]times these kids see cops is [they’re] coming to the front door.”
Three years ago, when Mitchell heard about Kelsey and her love of soccer, he realized he’d found the perfect motivation for the soccer event.
Working hard to win back the trophy from the students (the first year’s game ended in a 6-6 tie and last year’s event was won by students 3-1), the law enforcement team lost to the students, with a final score of 5-2.
While the game is played in the spirit of friendly competition, it’s clear both sides are there to win.
But in the end, it’s high-fives all around between the teams. And there were even MVPs: Libby Baeza and Ryan Khorram on the Beckman team and Tustin PD Officer Ryan Newton and Irvine PD Sgt. Mark Anderson on the law enforcement team. They all received Pieology gift cards.
It’s an event full of goodwill and a worthwhile mission. And at the center of it is Kelsey, who will always be loved and remembered.
“For the 1 1/2 years I had her, she definitely changed my life,” said Moon.