Wake Forest club soccer team mourns drowned teammate

Andrea Blanford Image
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Wake Forest community mourns loss of teen, prays for another
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Ian Lewis, 18, left, died in a rip current. Paige Merical, 17, was recued but is in critical condition.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- Instead of practicing on the soccer field just as they've done every Tuesday night since they were kids, Ian Lewis' NC Football Club team, the Condors, will gather this week to remember their teammate and friend.

Ian, 18, a senior at Wake Forest High School, died when he and his classmate, Paige Merical, 17, were pulled into a rip current while swimming off the coast of Emerald Isle on Good Friday.

Paige is in critical condition at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. Emerald Isle officials said she was under water for 14 minutes before first responders were able to reach her.

READ MORE: Tips to surviving a rip current

The Emerald Isle police chief said waves reached six to nine feet on Friday, with winds whipping up to 30 mph.

The search for Ian lasted through Easter weekend as search-and-recovery teams battled rough conditions.

Authorities said they found his body Monday morning around 3:30 a.m. about four miles down the beach from where he and Paige went into the water.

As the Wake Forest High School community planned a prayer vigil for Ian's family and Paige and her family Tuesday night, Ian's soccer team prepared for their first team meeting without their lifelong teammate.

Instead of practicing, they decided to meet at their coach's house for a time of consoling one another and sharing memories of their friend.

Richie Staggs began coaching the Condors in 2010 when Ian was only 9 years old. He referred to Ian, a left midfielder, as a natural leader, his versatile go-to player, and the heart of the team with a big heart of his own.

"Just about every time that Ian scored he would run off the field and hug his mom," Staggs said.

Staggs recalled the last time he saw Ian at practice only two weeks before he left for spring break. Ian was nearing the end of his soccer career with the Condors.

"I told him, I said you just be you," Staggs said. "I love the person you are and think you're great at what you're doing now."

Staggs said a number of his players have been together from the start. He's watched them grow up and now, he's faced with coaching them through a time of tremendous loss.

"He had this drive that when I'd just look at him and say it's time, he'd just go to the next gear and turn it on and just go with it," said Staggs. "And then (Ian) motivated everyone else around him is the big thing -- just inspirational. It's the way he lived his life and it's a testament to his mom and dad. He's exactly what you'd want your son to be."