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Appreciation

Senseless Columbine violence takes life of heroic young referee.

By Rob Kerby
Special to SoccerTimes

(Monday, April 26, 1999) -- If and when United States Soccer Federation referee Bob Curnow returns to the soccer field, the longtime Littleton, Colorado, official will look to the touchline and not see a familiar young figure in black, waiting with flag unfurled.

Fellow USSF referee Steven Robert Curnow, 14, won't be there.

Steve was Bob's son. The boy was murdered amid the terror that swept Columbine High School in Littleton last Tuesday. He was gunned down along with 11 schoolmates.

Football athletes, a softball coach, and the captain of the volleyball team all died in the madness and chaos. So did a fine young soccer player and ref. Father and son had been a referee team since the winter of 1996 when Steve first got his USSF badge at age 11.

Steve was a large boy, tall for his years, with a powerful clearing kick. According to some who have talked with witnesses, the Trenchcoat Mafia killers who stalked the school library picked out the sole African-American in the room, then asked individual students if they believed in God. And they picked out athletes.

Steve, the soccer ref, stared them down while other kids panicked and fled. And the killers took his life while others escaped.

A tall boy, Steve was only a ninth grader, a freshman in the large high school. But he evoked authority. His father remembers his son, shortly after getting his USSF badge, coming home from centering a game, flopping on the couch and holding up his whistle.

"Ah, power," said the boy.

"Ah, responsibility," said dad, who is also a basketball and volleyball ref.

The two then had a heart-to-heart talk about authority. "They had been reffing as a father son team since 1996," remembers Jerry Shirley, the Colorado State Youth Soccer Association's state youth referee administrator. Jerry lives in Littleton and has worked with Steve's dad since Bob first received his USSF badge in August 1993.

Father and son studied together for the exam that put a USSF badge on the boy and helped him to understand some of the subtleties of the game. Dad helped Steve get his restarts down. Working as a ref helped the boy to understand the game even better while also earning him a little money.

"The pictures in the newspaper and on TV don't do Steve justice," says Jerry. "They make him look little. Actually, he stood out because he was a larger kid -- he was taller and more powerful than other boys his age. Physically, he was a pretty husky guy."

He had a very calm air about him, remembers Jerry. Steve's mannerisms on the field were not boastful, but calm confidence. Physically, he had the size that caused little kids to look up to him. To everybody's delight, Steve was good with younger children -- and that's where he refereed much of the time, working the little kids' Saturday games. The rest of the time, he was an assistant ref, often with his dad, usually in recreational matches.

Services for Steve are scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Trinity Christian Center in Littleton. Arrangements are being handled by the Horan-McConaty Funeral Home there. Flowers from the U.S. soccer community would be appropriate.

A memorial fund also has been established. Contributions can be sent to: Steven Curnow Memorial Fund, #5710502413, c/o First Bank, 10403 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, Colo 80215. Perhaps a gift in his name would be more meaningful than flowers. Maybe both would be good for his family, which is devastated by its loss.

In many ways, Steve Curnow represented exactly what American youth soccer is all about. He was a kid with an engaging smile who had a clearing kick -- as well as a life outside of soccer. "When Steve kicked the ball, it was like a rocket coming at you," recalled a family member in a formal statement.

He was a recreational player for the Colorado Rush. "We have more than 100 kids from Columbine and we were checking names all day" while the shootings were still taking place, said Tom Stone of the Rush. "It was very hard to hear about Steve."

He first played soccer at age 5 with the YMCA and later for Club Columbine. Soccer was his game. But there was more to his life as well. He wanted to be a Navy Top Gun pilot. And he dreamed of space.

His mother, Nancy, says there will be a hollowness on May 19, when the latest installment of the "StarWars" saga opens in movie theaters. While Steve's ambition was to fly an F-16, he also dreamed of going much farther. In a recliner armed with a remote control, he was often transported to StarWars' mythical world "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

His family could hear their 14-year-old rewinding the trilogy's videos and precisely mimicking the characters' dialogue. He was avidly looking forward to attending the long-awaited fourth movie.

In the nationally televised memorial service attended by 70,000 in Littleton yesterday, there was a fly-by of F-16s that was hard for the national press to explain. They didn't know that in the missing-man formation was a Columbine graduate who peeled away from the other planes in tribute to a fellow soccer player.

That F-16 fly-by was, in part, for fallen USSF referee Steven Robert Curnow. "I remember Steve on my line," says Littleton ref Gary Thompson. "He always did a good job."

What better tribute for any who wear the ref uniform? A kid who stood in his ingrained authority and held his ground in the face of chaos and murder -- and took a bullet that might have gone to someone else.

"He always did a good job."

Rob Kerby is a National Soccer Coaches Association of America national youth coach and a USSF referee and assignor for the Central Ozarks Soccer League in northern Arkansas. He has been coaching youth soccer since the early 1970s and can be e-mailed at Ozarksoccr@aol.com.

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