By Karen Pearlman, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Friday, February 19, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.
K.C. Alfred / Union-Tribune
Howie Hawver continues to pursue his duties as soccer coach at Patrick Henry High despite being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2008.
Howie Hawver has not lost his sense of humor.
After his Patrick Henry High girls soccer team won its ninth straight Eastern League title yesterday, beating visiting Morse 8-0, the longtime coach was asked how special No. 9 is.
The 48-year-old Hawver smiled, then replied: “It’s my favourite number.”
Hawver is unable to speak yet his words were delivered with a perfect British accent. He also spelled it the UK way — with the “u” — with the assistance of his high-tech DynaVox Max voice aide computer, controlled by small movements he makes with the side of his right knee. The monitor is mounted on his motorized wheelchair, which was donated by Shay Realty of Del Mar.
Hawver, who has helped hundreds of girls earn college scholarships as a coach — from the youth ranks to a 15-year-stint at Grossmont College, where he amassed more than 200 victories — was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2008. It’s an incurable neurodegenerative disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The one-time Helix High soccer standout — whose memory is sharp, whose knowledge of the technical side of soccer is widely respected and whose wit is intact — has been in a wheelchair since last fall.
“I love that chair,” said Hawver’s father, Howard, who estimated its worth at $40,000. “He starts at 10 in the morning putting in the computer what he wants to say to the team later that day. At the last game against (league foe) Mira Mesa, he (wrote), ‘As athletes, this is the kind of game you live for.’ I love that the chair gives him a voice.”
The elder Hawver noted his son’s place of birth — Germany — then added, laughing, “I just don’t like that British accent.”
Laughter doesn’t come as often as it once did to Howard Hawver or to Howie’s younger sister, Michelle, who said she was close to Howie when they were kids before the two drifted apart for many years.
Now Michelle regularly makes the trek from Menifee in Riverside County, staying with Howie and his wife, Lianne, in their San Carlos home three days a week.
Howard, Michelle and Lianne work together as caregivers, chauffeurs and chefs to make sure Howie gets where he needs to go and has what he needs.
The Patriots were able to bring home what their coach needed against the overmatched Tigers. Amanda Howard led the charge with four goals for Patrick Henry (11-2-4, 9-1-2). Ciera Robillard notched the shutout.
“The (title) is a great tribute to Howie,” said first-year assistant coach Jason Aldous. “He’s so inspiring to us, full of spirit and desire. He doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. It’s all about the girls, and they know that.”
After the game, the team headed to nearby Mountain Mike’s Pizza for a fundraiser for Hawver as he continues his fight against ALS.
The victory was a fitting way to end the regular season, Hawver’s final year as the team’s head coach.
“Since it’s his last year coaching us, we all said, ‘Let’s do it for Howie,’ ” said defender Sydney Blackman, a four-year varsity member and team captain. “He keeps us going and we keep him going. He keeps us playing to our fullest and best. We dedicated this season to Howie. We’re trying to go all the way.”