ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This weekend isn’t merely a reunion for former University of New Mexico men’s soccer players, and Saturday’s alumni game isn’t just a battle for bragging rights against a younger generation of players.
When dozens of UNM alumni gather this week in Albuquerque, it’s to help one of their own.
Pat Grange, a 28-year-old Albuquerque High graduate who played for the Lobos in 2003 and 2004, was diagnosed last year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the neurons that control voluntary muscle movement, gradually paralyzing the body while generally leaving the mind unaffected. There is no known cure.
Saturday night’s game pitting all-star alumni against the 2011 Lobos will raise money to help pay Grange’s medical bills.
New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein said it’s the first time the game has been staged in conjunction with a cause, and that approximately 50 former players are expected to return. That includes 18 of the 24 from the 2004 squad, Grange’s senior season.
“It’s brought a lot of alumni together, and you get to realize how important this college opportunity is and the strength of the friendships that are forged,” Fishbein said.
Even knowing the strength of those bonds, Grange said he’s been surprised by his teammates’ commitment to help.
“(I’m) just overwhelmed and amazed by how great everyone’s been and how supportive,” Grange said. “It’s really great that they’re coming back to do this for me.”
Grange’s former teammate Jeff Rowland will return to Albuquerque from Seattle, where he’s now an assistant coach at University of Washington.
“I think everybody wants to see Pat and be there to support him,” said Rowland, who played for UNM from 2002-05 and had three professional seasons in Major League Soccer. “It will show how many people he’s really touched by the amount of people coming. On that soccer team, there wasn’t one person who didn’t love Pat; he’s a great person, and people are happy to come back and really support him.”
Rowland is one of several former Lobos with professional experience who will play in Albuquerque Saturday. Others include Lance Watson, Mike Graczyk and Brandon Moss.
Moss, now a Lobo assistant, said former players “from coast to coast” are coming back to Albuquerque for the game, a testament both to the camaraderie among soccer players and Grange’s reputation as a quiet leader always willing to do what it took to make the team better.
“He was quiet, yet still had a certain presence because of his ability as a soccer player. We benefitted tremendously from having him as part of the team,” Moss said of Grange, who helped lead the Lobos to the Sweet 16 of the 2004 national tournament.
Admission to Saturday’s game is free, but donations will be accepted at the gate. A silent auction will also raise funds, offering airfare, spa treatments, a big-screen TV, and jerseys signed by professional teams and players out of Major League Soccer, the English Premier League and La Liga. Proceeds will also benefit UNM men’s soccer but the bulk will go to the Grange family.
Grange’s mother, Michele, said the support from the entire soccer community demonstrates the impact sports can have on a life.
“When you put your kids into sports you want them to learn to be a good sport and practice sportsmanship, but you also want them to develop deep friendships, and that’s definitely coming out through this fundraiser,” she said. “… It’s just really heartwarming.”
Capsule – ALS fund- raiser: UNM men vs. alumni, UNM Soccer Complex, 6:30 p.m. gates open 5 p.m.
Photo Credit – jim thompson/journal
Cutline – Pat Grange, with his girlfriend Amanda Aragon, played soccer for UNM in 2003 and 2004. Grange now suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease and Saturday’s Lobo alumni game will raise money to help pay his medical bills.