The Washington Post

Remembering Shawn Kuykendall

(Kuykendall Academy photo) (Kuykendall Academy photo)

A memorial service for former local soccer player and coach Shawn Kuykendall, who died last week at age 32, will take place Saturday at 11 a.m. at The King’s Chapel in Clifton, Va. A large turnout is expected and organizers have asked those planning to attend to follow these logistical recommendations.

Several touching remembrances have been shared since Shawn passed away. Here’s another one, by longtime Insider reader Joe Dougherty:


Shawn Kuykendall sat in the back seat of my aging blue Dodge Spirit, looking as confident and in control as any adult could be. He was only 10 years old.

I was driving, and my wife, Karen, was next to me. I had just finished coaching Shawn and his Warhawks teammates at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, and we were waiting for his mother Sherry – who was likely running around to other soccer practices – to arrive. I wasn’t sure which parking lot to meet up with Sherry, so I started driving around Woodson looking for the Kuykendalls’ Abrams-tank sized SUV – the one you could hear before you could see it.

“Yes, sir,” Shawn responded politely to my questions, his head bobbing as I looked at him through the rear-view mirror.

“Yes, ma’am,” Shawn said to Karen when she addressed him. His answers were clear and articulate, polite and confident.

Karen and I looked at each other. Who is this kid?

That time spent with a young Shawn Kuykendall proved to be a pivotal evening for me and Karen. We both knew a lot of kids, but none like the little guy in the back seat that night.

We were so impressed with how Shawn handled himself that we had to ask Sherry and her husband Kurt how they did it.

Over the next several years, as Karen and I spent more and more time with the Kuykendall clan, I learned there were three things that made them special: their religious devotion; their unapologetic love of each other; and their love of soccer.

Kurt, a former pro player, would eventually become a mentor, helping me in my walk with Jesus and in raising a family. Every now and again he would ask me my thoughts on something soccer-related – me! – as if there was something I could teach him. Our soccer conversations were long, intriguing and thought-provoking.

And Sherry was equally a mentor for Karen, who turned to Sherry in the early years of our home-schooling adventure with our three kids – Kathryn, Aiden and Owen. Karen was understandably somewhat frightened at the prospect of teaching the kids at home, but Sherry was a wealth of knowledge and sage advice.


I’ll never forget the first time I saw Shawn play soccer. I had been named the U-9 boys travel team coach at Braddock Road Youth Club, and to help to get to know the kids who would be trying out for the teams – the Warhawks and Seahawks – I was charged with coaching one of the all-star teams.

One of the games was against Fairfax Police Youth Club, at Algonkian Park in Sterling. The game was going just fine, until shortly after kickoff, when this little guy for FPYC raced up the left sideline and, after beating four kids on the dribble, scored.

Whoa. Who is this kid?

FPYC would go on to win, 4-1. I don’t remember how many goals Shawn had, but he was unquestionably the difference. I had no idea who he was at the time, but I did know that I needed to get that kid on my team.

Shawn would join the Warhawks, and his influence on the field was immediate. He brought an understanding of the game that raised the Warhawks – already a remarkably talented team – to a new level. His ability to run on the dribble. His feints and cuts. And the weight of his through passes! Just brilliant. Shawn possessed an awareness and understanding of the game well beyond his years.


My last day with Shawn will forever be etched in my mind.

During his nearly month-long stay at Georgetown Hospital in January, Karen and I were able to visit. A nurse guided us right to his room – she knew who he was, of course. Everyone there did.

As we entered his room we saw his sister Jaime first, seated and reading. Shawn was not in his official bed, but his unofficial bunk deeper into the room, near the window and along the far wall. This bed, he would explain later, was much more comfortable than his standard-issue bed.

He was groggy at first, but as we talked he slowly gained energy and strength. He updated us on his condition. He was tired of being at the hospital – it had been over three weeks – and he simply wanted to get home.

He talked of the wonderful conversations he had with people and the support he enjoyed. “God has a plan,” he said several times. The words weren’t vacant, as if he was trying to convince himself. No, he was reminding me and Karen.

Of course, the conversation eventually drifted to soccer. We talked about the Warhawks, and why I played him in the middle of the park. “I just allowed you to float in the midfield because you had a sense of what needed to be done,” I told him.

“I wish you hadn’t done that,” he explained, politely. Shawn the student was now Shawn the teacher. Having played under youth coach Gene Mishalow and American University Coach Todd West, and having trained in the Netherlands and played in Major League Soccer, Shawn certainly earned the right to take that mantle.

“You did a great job with the technical work,” he said. “That was unheard of then. But I had to overcome filling the space that the forwards were checking into.”

Yep, I thought to myself. That makes perfect sense.

The conversation segued to Barcelona, and how they are not really the best team for youth coaches to use as examples. “They’re just so technically good,” Shawn said, adding that to expect American youngsters to do what Messi, Iniesta and Xavi do is unreasonable.

The next thing I knew, Shawn was on his feet explaining what the “back shoulder” pass means. Using his IV stand as a defender, Shawn went on to explain the importance of space between him and the defender, and the non-verbal cue that gives his teammate who is passing the ball.

“Play to my feet, the defender should be here,” he said, moving the IV stand away from him. “If the defender is here” – IV stand was now next to him – “the pass goes to this foot, the one away from the defender. Just like wide receivers in football.”

Click. I just learned something new. The teacher – me – was now the student. Stricken with cancer, a needle delivering pain medicine stuck in his arm, and Shawn Kuykendall was teaching me the game he loved so much.

More importantly, he was teaching me about strength and courage.

Who is this kid?

He’s Shawn Kuykendall. And I miss him.


Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.



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Steven Goff · March 20, 2014