With teammates’ support, athlete perseveres through difficult times

Josh Beard

Josh Beard found strength on the field from his teammates while grieving from two deaths in his family. Photo: Steve Woltmann

Josh Beard has had such a roller-coaster semester, it sometimes seemed like the ride wouldn’t stop.

Beard, a redshirt senior defender for the Flames soccer team and a communication major with a 3.0 cumulative GPA, was in the midst of the best season of his collegiate career as he headed toward graduation in December.

The team had just won eight of its last nine games and was sitting atop the Horizon League standings. Beard’s speed and physical play was integral to keeping the opposition from scoring.

Then came a 10-day span in October that he won’t soon forget.

He was getting ready to leave his apartment for practice on the afternoon of Oct. 15 when he received a phone call from his father, telling him his paternal grandmother, Dorothy Mae Beard, had died suddenly from complications after a series of falls.

Although she was 86 years old, “she was always very alive. You wouldn’t have thought anything was wrong with her” before the accidents, Beard said.

While distraught over the news, Beard knew he had to stay focused on soccer — the team had a tough contest with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee the next night.

When he arrived at practice he told his teammates of his loss, and his soccer family was there to console him and help him through his trying time. They told him the best way to honor his grandmother was to play well.

During pregame warm-up, Beard looked in the stands and saw his father, James. He knew how close he was with his mother, and his heart felt broken for his dad. After playing a good first half, he could not contain his emotions any longer. He sat down on the bench and began crying.

Then he composed himself and played another strong half, helping the Flames beat Milwaukee, 1-0.

“All I could think about was that the win was for Nana,” Beard said.

Three days later, UIC defeated Wright State 3-2 in two overtimes to stay atop the conference standings. It had been only a few days and Beard was still grieving over the loss of his grandmother, but his spirits began to rise after the game.

“Winning helps everything,” he said.

Then another tragedy struck. His maternal grandmother, Dolores Helen Werygo, affectionately known as “Honey,” died.

Beard was thankful and appreciative of his teammates during his Nana’s death, but he didn’t want them to take their focus off the upcoming game against Oakland, a game that could clinch a conference title. He left the team for three days to be with his family and attend funeral services, returning the day of the game.

Just as he needed his teammates, his teammates needed him. Beard scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 shutout of the Golden Grizzlies — the first time he scored a game winner during his UIC career.

“That was special for me,” he said. “This is my fifth year, and I’ve suffered through some failed seasons, where we didn’t reach our goals.

Soccer coach Sean Phillips

“Josh created the biggest part of our success this year from a team culture standpoint,” says coach Sean Phillips. Photo: Steve Woltmann

“Scoring the game winner was more than I ever could have imagined. It felt as if all my hardships were vindicated in that one moment.”

Head soccer coach Sean Phillips said the Schaumburg High School graduate played an integral role on the team both on and off the field.

“Josh created quite possibly the biggest part of our success this year from a team culture standpoint,” Phillips said. “From the first day of preseason, Josh gave everything he had, whether it was on the field, in the training room, locker room or classroom.

“It was this attitude, combined with his tremendous abilities as a soccer player, that put him and the team in a position to have the type of season they had.”

Sunday, UIC took an 11-game winning streak into the Horizon League tournament final against UW-Milwaukee. After a four-hour weather delay and venue change (the game was moved from Flames Field to Northwestern University in Evanston), Milwaukee avenged its earlier loss to UIC to capture the title and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Flames were not selected as one of the 25 at-large teams in the tournament.

So the season ended sooner than Beard would have liked, but he considers it a success.

“We never won a title in my career until this year, and it was fun to lift the trophy for the first time in years and be a part of the first team in UIC history to go undefeated in the conference,” said Beard, who hopes to continue his soccer career overseas after graduation.

He was picked for the All-League First Team and named Horizon Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’ve taken the good with the bad this past month. It’s been hard at times, but it’s also given me great memories.”

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