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School reeling over 2 deaths

Published: Tuesday, March 20 2007 10:29 a.m. MDT

Students at East High School roamed the halls in grief Monday after staggering losses over the weekend. The school's longtime boys soccer coach, loved by his team, and a former star athlete, whose smile left an impression on everyone she met, both died Sunday.

Coach Mike Kernodle died after a long battle with a liver illness. Lauren Mulkey, a former lacrosse athlete, long jumper and sprinter who graduated in January, was killed early Sunday when her car was hit by a teen driver who was talking on his cell phone.

"This is probably the hardest day of my life," Coulson Wiscomb, a goalie for the soccer team, said during Monday's practice.

The team held its regular practice despite being excused from school. The players had breakfast together in the morning, shared stories, comforted each other and took the time away from school to grieve.

Meanwhile, Mulkey's heartbroken mother, Linda, was surrounded by her daughter's friends, who spent the night with her Sunday night.

"She was my only daughter, and it is going to be lonely and very hard for me," Linda Mulkey said. "I am not ready to not have someone to take care of anymore. I'm not ready not to be a mom."

She said nearly 100 of Lauren's friends stopped by her home Monday to share stories and memories with her. They also painted "Lauren we love you" on the road leading to her house.

Friends describe Mulkey as a beautiful, confident and driven young woman who was friends with everyone and would stick up for the underdog. After graduating early, Lauren immediately enrolled at Westminster College.

The most striking thing about her was her "big beautiful infectious smile," her mom said. "She had more best friends than anyone I have ever met.

"She hated when people would tear themselves down and was the first to build them up."

Niesha Gardiner, an East High senior who ran track with Mulkey, said she was a leader and was always there for her friends.

"She was always so positive and had faith in what she could do, and helped others feel the same way about themselves," Gardiner said.

Lauren's father, Tom Mulkey, said, "There will be an awful lot of us that are going to miss her, and her influence is going to be carried on with everyone who knew her."

Members of the Salt Lake City School District's crisis team were on hand Monday to talk to students and faculty members to help them work through their grief.

The soccer team has been reeling since hearing the news of Kernodle's death. Sunday night, the players gathered to support each other and share stories about their coach. Team members said he was a father figure to everyone.

Last year, under Kernodle's guidance, East won its first boys soccer state title in school history. He was named Soccer Coach of the Year for Utah by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

"He set such a great example on field, his presence is just amazing," said team captain Jake Cook. "He is all about the kids, never about himself. Even when he was really sick he didn't care about himself, he just cared about us."

"Everything he did was to set an example," Wiscomb said. "He developed one-on-one relationships with everyone on the team, making time for everyone."

The Leopards are determined to continue winning soccer matches in his absence.

"The biggest thing we're gonna do — and I think this is what coach Kernodle would want us to do — we're gonna move forward," said Kernodle's assistant, Rudy Schenk, who has taken over the head coaching duties.

East will play its Region 6 opener today against Cottonwood.

"We're going to stay as close to a normal routine as we can," Schenk said.

The defending 4A champs have a large group of seniors, and Schenk noted his squad will look to them for leadership.

"We're going to rely heavily on them," he said.

East principal Robyn Roberts said student leaders are in the process of planning events later on in the week to honor Mulkey and Kernodle.

Mulkey's family will be taking contributions for the Lauren Elizabeth Mulkey Scholarship fund, established in her memory at Westminster. They also will be taking donations to dedicate a bench at Red Butte Gardens in Lauren's memory.

Mulkey's memorial services will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus. Friends can pay their respects before the celebration of life that will begin at 11 a.m. A lunch will follow.

Scholarship fund

A scholarship fund has been established in memory of Coach Mike Kernodle. Contributions can be sent to:

Coach K Scholarship Fund

c/o Bank of Utah

Att: Roger Tidwell

711 S. State Street

Salt Lake City, UT 84111


Contributing: Dan Rasmussen

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com

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