Nobody knows exactly why Casey Taub chose that number for his jersey in fourth grade — but it was a number that would stick with him throughout his life, and even after death.
While many kids are known to pick 9 or 10, numbers representative of soccer’s biggest stars, Casey liked to march to the beat of his own drum. He was certainly not your typical 10-year-old.
Known as a history buff who would strike up intelligent conversations with adults at his parents’ parties, Casey had a maturity beyond his years.
“How is there a 40-year-old man trapped in a 10-year-old body?” his dad, Jonathan, often wondered.
But the young man would sadly not make it to the wise old age his persona projected.
At age 14, Casey started to experience an unusual dizziness that called for concern. His parents thought he came down with a treatable case of vertigo, but a later diagnosis proved much more grim: brain cancer.
“Initially I thought it was something a lot of kids recover from,” said his father. “Then we saw it was a mutated tumor, which you never want to hear.”
At just 16, the lively teen was forced to face the reality that he might not make it past high school graduation.
“Am I going to die?” he asked his dad.
Unsure of what to say to be both honest and comforting, Jonathan replied with the first reflex response that popped into his head.
“You immediately tell him, ‘No.’” he recalls. “What do you do? You pray.”
Admittedly, he would’ve told his son “no” even if the doctors gave him no hope for survival.
For the next six weeks, Casey would endure draining radiation sessions five days a week, on top of three major surgeries. The treatment showed some signs of progress, but not at the rate it would require to beat the aggressive brain cancer. Doctors said it was “like trying to catch up to a speeding car.”
But cancer could not kill Casey’s passion for the game he loved. Though his health setbacks stopped him from playing, he cheerfully took on the role as the team’s manager, sporting his 22 jersey everywhere he went.
The Make-A-Wish foundation granted Casey a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet his “beloved Chelsea team” in London, and he also got introduced to some of his favorite players on the New York City FC, including Khiry Shelton, who spent hours with him in the hospital.
While the soccer field acted as a safe haven for the brave teen, it wasn’t long before the chemo weakened him too much to leave the confines of his house and the hospital.
“When his vision got blurry, when May hit, he really started not wanting to talk to his friends anymore,” said Jonathan, as he choked back tears. “They’d come over, and just sit with him.”
On July 9, Casey passed away. He was only 16 years old.
“He soldiered through a lot of stuff,” added his father. “He was a trooper. He never gave up.”
Casey’s family and teammates were completely devastated — but little did they know, his memory would soon come back to comfort them in a way they least expected.
After a funeral turnout of over 800 people, his team decided there was still something more they wanted to do as a nod to their late friend: dedicate a soccer match in his honor.
“I was all for it,” said Jonathan of the gesture. “For some reason, still, in a way, it sort of gave me comfort that Casey…that I’m still connected to him.”
The Horace Greeley High team concluded it was only appropriate to honor Casey when the clock struck 22 minutes, in tribute to his favorite number.
The moment that minute mark hit, players and fans alike joined in on a somber slow clap…but a few seconds later, that erupted into a ROAR unlike anything the Horace Greeley High field had seen before.
Senior captain Matt LaFortezza had scored a goal!!
But as though scoring on the minute dedicated to Casey wasn’t enough, this story gets even better…
Amidst the chaotic explosion of applause, it took the crowd a moment to realize the exact moment the goal was made:
That’s right. 22 minutes, 22 seconds.
“When they started the clapping thing I was OK,” says Jonathan of the surreal moment. “As it kept going on, I was overcome. When the goal was scored I was crying and everyone was comforting me.”
In a moment when he needed it most, the father is grateful for the soul-wink from heaven from the son he lost too soon.
Our prayers are with Jonathan and the players of Horace Greely High as they grieve the loss of the beautiful soul that was Casey Taub.
He may have died at 16, but to them, he will be forever 22. 💛