Annual soccer game honors Tim Eckstine
Tim Eckstine [aka Carl] loved playing soccer in the rain. The former Cottage Grove Lion thrived in the weather. Tim was a champion, on and off the field. When the Lions soccer team won state in 2008, it was he who would assist on the team’s championship-clinching goal.
His mother Denise says he was “one of her goofier children.” Friends who knew him speak about him having a “big, kind heart.” His father Paul says he was “the toughest guy I ever knew.”
His friends would call him Carl, after a running joke on the ’90s sitcom, “Family Matters.” His brothers would tease him with the nickname when he was a kid, but Tim actually found it humorous and the name stuck. Many of his friends didn’t even know his name was Tim.
He and his brother Tom played soccer together since they were kids. They often played opposite of each other.
“They had coaches year after year who would say how fun they were to watch. One plays one side and one plays the other side. They are total opposites. Tom was the scorer and was left footed. Carl played right footed and wanted to get the ball to the center so whoever was there could score,” Denise continued.
“It was all strategy with him, he loved that,” Paul added.
He often looked first for a way to make the assist. He was rarely looking to score. It was not uncommon to find Tim taking less playing time in order to allow others to take the spot light.
“I say he was pretty humble, because if I would have had his skill set I would have been pretty loud,” Paul said. “He was a team player, there is no doubt about it.”
“When he first started playing in high school he got the award for the most assists,” his mother said. “I’ll never forget they were playing a JV game somewhere down south. He was a forward — when he scored we thought that was great. Then he scored again. Then we saw him go over to the coach and suddenly he is back in at a different position. He wanted to move so that other kids could go up and score. To him, that was the greatest thing ever.”
In the 2008 state championship, Tim played in the game with a torn ACL and a torn meniscus.
“He wasn’t going to not play,” Denise said. “He had a fracture in his tibia. He was like ‘no, I’m playing.’ He was a junior that year.”
Tim didn’t get a chance to play in college. His grandmother passed away just before he graduated from Cottage Grove High School and he stayed in the area to help take care of his grandfather. He would go on to play in many local adult and indoor soccer leagues.
Soon, Tim had been brought on with Oregon Department of Forestry [ODF] in Springfield.
“Soccer was his first love, then he got on at ODF and he was fighting fires, and then he met his girlfriend, Nichole. He was so excited for all of them. He ended up getting married just over two months before he passed away,” Denise said.
It’s been just over five years since Tim passed away of Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
This past Sunday, Sept. 25, it wasn’t raining, as Tim preferred it. It was warm, about 85 degrees with slightly smoky skies. Still, friends and family gathered to play soccer in a local field in his honor. Every year around Sept. 23 — Tim wore the number 23 as his jersey number — the individuals most impacted by his life gather to remember him and play the game he treasured so much.
Tim didn’t stop living life when he was diagnosed with cancer.
“He was such an inspiration to everybody when he was sick. He was just like, ‘Yea, I‘m good,’” Denise said. “He never complained.”
While battling cancer, a friend of Tim’s invited him to a soccer match he was hosting for his birthday. He insisted that that it was unnecessary for Tim to play. He simply requested for Tim’s presence. The next day, Denise picked him up to take him to an appointment at OHSU [Oregon Health & Science University] and he told her he had played in the game.
“I said, ‘What? You have a port in your chest.’ He said, ‘It was so much fun, mom. I couldn’t just sit there and not play.’ I was like, great. He had his appointment with his doctor, she asks him ‘Have you done anything since our last appointment?’ and he goes ‘Yea, my friend had a birthday and I played soccer last night.’ The doctor was like, ‘Okay, alright.’”
Even when he was battling cancer, Tim looked for the positive. He continued to work for ODF even through it all. They recently put the Eckstine name on one of Tim’s favorite fire trucks in his honor.
He also was a man of faith.
“One of the things that impressed a lot of people was that he had tattooed on his chest the words ‘Fear God;’ no doctor would cut into that,” Denise said. “Nobody would ever dare touch that. Doctors would ask what that means. He would reply, ‘Well, fear God, but don’t fear God.’”
She recalled, “I only saw him break down twice during everything. We were driving home from one of his treatments one day and he says, ‘You know mom, it’s a good thing I got this instead of my brothers. Jeremie is raising his two kids, Matt is in Chile and expecting his first baby, and that wouldn’t be right. Tom has been through so much. I can handle it.’”
Sunday’s soccer game in his memory brought together adults who knew Tim well and kids who never got to meet him. The family hosts the soccer game and a yearly camping trip to help keep his memory alive.
“The community here was so great to us, we could never thank them enough. We had so many people that were there and we still do. There is a lot of people who still remember, you can’t thank everyone enough for everything they did,” Denise concluded.