She scored a goal in the quarter-final. This came as absolutely no surprise to anyone since she was always scoring goals. Ever since house league as a four-year-old when she was getting as many as five a game, she’s known how to find the net.
Still, this one was a beauty. In a game her team had to win to advance in a tournament against girls two years older, she put a couple moves on the other team’s defenders and then plugged the ball into the corner of the net.
At that happy moment, the thought of what would happen over the next 24 hours was unimaginable.
Sydney Wood was always the life of the team. Her soccer coach describes her as bringing a bit of sunshine onto the field with her every time she arrived to play or practice. And she was always one of the better players on any team she joined. Often the best.
Basketball was the 11-year-old’s first love. Her dad, Greg, coached her sister with Blessed Sacrament and, when she was very young, she always asked to come along and join the practice.
“I told her she could do some of the drills if she could keep up,” he says.
She did. In fact, within a few years, she was doing them better than some of the girls on the team. Soon she became a star point guard on her own squad, leading it to a second-place finish in Ontario’s under-10 division last year.
In the summer, she turned her attention to soccer with her Mt. Hamilton team. Which is what took her to the tournament in Virginia Beach two weekends ago.
After winning all of their games against the American teams and being declared co-champions — rain washed out the final game — Sydney headed back to the hotel for a swim with some of the other girls.
For a few days, she’d been complaining about some mild sinus headaches, but nothing out of the ordinary. Greg has seasonal allergies and had been suffering recently, so they figured she had them, too.
But five minutes into the swim, she was crying and had to be carried to her hotel room. Her left arm and leg were suddenly numb and her headache was intense. Mom and dad still figured it was just a migraine but called for an ambulance anyway. The pain got worse. The straight-A student at George L. Armstrong often played with twisted ankles and bumps and bruises without ever complaining or coming off the field so this was highly unusual.
“Everybody knew something was wrong because Sydney is as tough as nails,” Greg says, speaking of his daughter in the present tense even now.
A check at the hospital led to a CT scan, which led to more tests. Things only got worse. Apparently she had something called arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, which is an abnormality deep inside the brain that usually isn’t spotted before it becomes a problem.
Twelve hours after arriving, the doctors ran out of answers and Sydney slipped away.
“We went from having a wonderful time to hearing our daughter’s brain had stopped functioning to hearing them tell us our daughter had passed away,” Greg says.
The 12-hour drive home to their Hamilton Mountain home was mostly silent. Her sisters Mallory and Kamryn rode in the back seat. Mom and dad sat stunned in the front. A dozen years ago, they’d lost a son at birth and now this.
They took some comfort in knowing her donated organs would help nine or 10 kids. But making sense of what happened was impossible. Not just for them, either.
The local sports community was emotionally blasted. A touching YouTube video popped up. Facebook tributes poured in. At the team’s first practice since her death, the girls sat around in their uniforms and talked about Sydney. Then did some of her favorite drills.
“She was good from the inside out,” says her soccer coach Charlie Scibetta.
At both visitations Tuesday, hundreds of people lined up until they were outside the door of the funeral home, many in the team shirts they wore with Sydney. Once inside, her teammates took Sharpies in team colors and wrote messages onto her white casket.
The next time they’ll have those jerseys on is Wednesday when they play their first game without her. Scibetta’s not sure how they’ll do.
But he says he’ll open the game with only 10 players on the field. One short of a regular lineup.
“She started every game for me and she’s starting this one,” he says.