Remembering September 11
The tragic events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, disturbed the lives of people everywhere regardless of race, color, creed, age, sex or origin. West Virginia University was no exception.
Among the scared, confused and angered that day was Lisa Stoia, who grew up on Long Island, just outside the city, and was a then-sophomore on the Mountaineer women’s soccer team.
“I’ll never forget what unfolded and where I was that awful day,” said Stoia, days away from the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
What began as an ordinary day, early in the fall semester, quickly became chaotic.
“I had a little bit of time before class so I stopped into our coaches’ offices,” recalled Stoia. “(Coach) Nikki (Izzo-Brown) said ‘Did you hear? Is your family okay?’”
Unaware of the morning news, Stoia responded ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ sensing the bad news in her coaches’ voice.
Izzo-Brown, a Rochester, N.Y., native, explained that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
“My first thought was ‘Oh, that’s not good,’” said Stoia. “But growing up in the city, there are small engine planes that clip skyscrapers all the time. We then turned the radio on and I immediately felt something different in the reports being given. I knew I had to get a hold of my family right away.”
Stoia’s father, Cosmo, a corrections officer on Rikers Island, was only a few blocks away when the twin towers came crashing down.
“We were in the office listening to the radio, long before the days of iPods and MP3 players,” said Izzo-Brown on learning news of the attacks. “The radio station broke in with the news and we just tried to gather as much information as we could. Moments later, Stoia comes walking in.
“We started making phone calls amidst all the mayhem. I was calling my family, calling my friends, calling our players…just a lot going on.”
The first call made was to Stoia’s father, and then to her mother, Gail.
“It was a very scary moment because cell phone communications were down,” said Stoia. “We kept trying and then heard about a second plane hitting.
“We tried again and then the Pentagon was attacked. Then, the plane went down in Shanksville, Pa., and still no word from my family.”
After several hours and repeated attempts, a connection was made with her mother.
“There was something in both our voices, maybe a sense of relief, when we finally got in touch,” offered Stoia. “I’m not sure if we even said much to each other. It was just good to hear her voice, and that was all I needed at that particular moment.”
Stoia was one of many teammates rattled by the attacks, including Julie Smith, an Olean, N.Y., native.
“I remember Julie Smith was really shaken up,” said Izzo-Brown, whose team flew out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport just nine days earlier after matches at St. John’s and Hofstra.
“We pulled everyone together and said ‘What do you all want to do?’ I wanted to make sure we took care of our players emotionally, because soccer and school didn’t matter at that moment.”
In times of tragedy and discomfort, sports are often played or viewed in hope of creating a sense of normalcy. That afternoon, a training session on the soccer practice field proved just that.
“Nikki showed up and gave us the option of canceling training that day,” explained Stoia. “She wanted to see how we all were, and said we could take the day off if we needed a break or time to ourselves. We ended up training that day and it was a good distraction for not only me, but for probably everyone else on our team.
“There was a sense of comfort being in her office that day. And looking back, I’m grateful that my coaches were so understanding to the events that occurred.”
Conscious of emotions running high from her players, Izzo-Brown knew an effort to show she and her coaching staff cared, was the correct thing to do.
“As a coach, people are going to see you or need you in a different role and at different times,” said Izzo-Brown. “With Stoia, I knew I had to be there for her, knowing what her father did and where her family lives. The most important thing was being strong for her and finding out where her father was.”
After checking in with his family, Stoia’s father went to work the next several days at Ground Zero, lending a hand in the rescue and recovery efforts.
“At that point, everything was shut down and all emergency personnel went to help, my dad included,” said Stoia. “Strangers became family in a matter of minutes; rank and affiliation did not matter. People were opening their stores and giving out every ounce of water they had to workers.”
And the reports from her father’s efforts – they were strong and sobering.
“It was a very surreal moment for my dad and my family,” said Stoia. “He says he’ll never forget the smell of burned debris and how much smoke and all the dust covering the ground.”
As the years have passed, conversations with her family have turned to soccer.
“My family always wants updates on the team and what’s going on with soccer in my life,” laughed Stoia, an All-American midfielder at WVU, and now in her fifth season as an assistant coach under Izzo-Brown. “I’d rather talk about what they are doing and what’s going on back home. My family means everything to me and they are the foundation to who I am. My family is extremely close.
“I look up to my dad and both of my brothers because of how hard they work. I get to go out and play soccer every day when my dad and brother are putting on bullet proof vests and armored belts.”
Her brother, Cosmo, is in his seventh year as a proud member of the New York Police Department, patrolling the streets of New York City.
Ten years after the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, the Mountaineers are honoring service men and women throughout the local communities at their home match.
“With our game falling on this date, I think it’s only appropriate we recognize the service efforts of our troops and first responders,” said Izzo-Brown. “These are special people who do thankless jobs day-in, day-out. They stepped up when our country needed them the most.
“Sunday is a chance to play a soccer game and entertain them, and more importantly, recognize them for all that they have done and continue to do.”
Prior to West Virginia’s kickoff against High Point, “God Bless America” will be performed, perhaps leaving a heavy heart on one particular Mountaineer.
“September 11 will always be a day where I step back, take a deep breath and say a prayer for all families who lost someone on that tragic day,” said Stoia. “And now when I hear the national anthem or “God Bless America,” I get chills down my spine.
“Sunday might just be a little bit emotional for me. It’s more than just a game. It’s a day to honor all those who have fallen and those who proudly protect our nation.”
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