Lower Merion – Shipley School soccer star Austin Wylie, who died July 13, was valued and loved by his Shipley classmates for his unselfishness, thoughtfulness, humility and work ethic.
“I loved Austin,” said Shipley Head of School Steve Piltch. “He was the kind of kid who, if he wanted to spend time with your sister, he would ask you if it was OK first. He remembered your birthday and found ways to surprise you. He was the hardest-working team player we had in any sport here at Shipley — I live next to the practice fields, and I would see him out there doing sprints and drills when no one else was around. When things went wrong on the field, he never made an excuse and never blamed a teammate.
“And it wasn’t only his teammates who loved, admired him, and respected him, everybody here at Shipley did. What seems clear is even though people felt as they did, he may not have known it. Moreover, though he had become a really fine player, I am not sure he knew he was as good as he was.”
Wylie died last Wednesday, when he apparently parked his car in downtown Philadelphia and took his own life when he jumped from the Ben Franklin Bridge.
“Austin was such a thoughtful child, sociable,” said Wylie’s mother, Brooksley. “He could be a little shy, but he had wonderful friends and a wonderful girlfriend. He cared so much about people, and he valued his teammates, coaches and family. [My husband and I] would tell him that we loved him. He just didn’t think of the impact he would have [when he took his own life].”
“There were no warning signs, no nefarious set of events that you can trace [his suicide] to,” Piltch said. “Whenever you asked him how he was doing, he always said ‘fine.’ Though he had concerns which he shared with his family and others, the concerns seemed normal and manageable. No one knew they might, one morning, overwhelm him.”
Austin’s mother said he had what she thought were normal issues for a person his age.
“Austin had issues that he would talk to me and to his friends about, but they were the same type of issues that every 17-year-old has,” Brooksley said. “He worked so hard throughout his life to achieve good, positive results. It’s so unbelievably sad that Jim, (his brother) Cameron, and I and others won’t get to see him grow into an adult and to see where life takes him. I hope his friends and teammates learn from this — that, if they feel overwhelmed for the moment, that they should talk it out, talk it through, with somebody.”
Last fall, Austin, a junior attacking-mid and striker, was the Friends’ Schools League boys’ soccer most valuable player, as well as All-State, All-Southeastern Pa. and first team All-Main Line. Noted for his physicality, dynamic play, speed and strength, he tallied 10 goals and dished out 13 assists. He was noteworthy for his long throw-ins that resulted in numerous goals.
“The Shipley boys’ soccer team met on Friday (two days after Wylie’s death), and it was compelling,” Piltch said. “Austin is so sorely missed. He was a quiet kid who never brought notice to himself, but his impact on the team was terrific.”
Shortly after Austin’s death, a letter was found on his phone that was addressed to his parents.
“It was a beautiful letter,” said Piltch. “He really communicates in it how much he appreciated and respected his teammates and friends, how successful he felt here, how much he owed to his parents for his success, and how much he loved them. And, they were always his biggest supporters.”
Wylie was selected Main Line Boys Athlete of the Week last September, nominated by Shipley boys’ soccer coach Thom Schauerman, who at that time noted that Wylie shattered the two-mile run record for the Shipley boys soccer team with a mark of 10:38.
“Austin was every coach’s dream player,” Schauerman said Monday. “He was always the first one on the field and the last one to leave. His teammates admired him for his genuine passion for the game of soccer as well as his work ethic. He was known to be humble and kind to everyone around him and never wanted to take credit for scoring goals or winning games because he truly believed in the concept of a team.
“He was a quiet leader, his actions always louder than his words,” Schauerman said. “A huge piece of our soul will be missing this upcoming season, but I know our Shipley team will band together to fight harder, stronger, and with more love than we’ve ever known in his memory.
“Austin is forever on the field and in our hearts. We will miss you, No. 7.”
When interviewed for the Main Line Athlete of the Week article last September, Wylie was asked for the highlight of his Shipley soccer career. “Over the past two years there have been a lot of great game moments and a lot of fun times with teammates both at practice, and off the field. But I always want to push for more and I am hoping that the highlight is still to come.”
Asked what he wanted to major in at college, Wylie responded, “I am not sure what I will do when I can’t play soccer anymore but I have a significant interest in Social Policy and International Relations. I know I want to travel and see the world and help people whenever possible.”
Shipley athletic director Mark Duncan spoke of the loss being felt among the close-knit Shipley family.
“It will be hard to go out to our Farm Fields without thinking about Austin,” Duncan said. “My last memory of him is his two-goal performance — including the game-winning goal — in the Friends Schools League championship game. He wanted that title and you could see the determination in his eyes to overpower his opponent to make sure Shipley won that game. That is how he played the game.
“Austin brought an intensity and excitement to our soccer fields that I haven’t seen in my 15 years at Shipley,” Duncan said. “He was a driven young man who worked tirelessly to be better every day. This summer I would look out my window in my office that overlooks our fields, on days with temperatures over 100 degrees looking at someone training by himself up on our turf field. I would walk outside and I would find Austin, setting up cones, doing sprints and pushing himself to be better. He was a special student-athlete that will be deeply missed here at Shipley.”
Piltch said a funeral mass for Wylie will be held July 26 at 10:30 a.m. at Villanova University’s campus chapel.
“Austin was a special kind of a team player,” Piltch said. “He could have scored 12 goals in a game, but the most important thing to him was how the team did. He was so resilient, too, always bounced back if something bad happened on the field. The more he got knocked down, the harder and better he played.
“You know, we as teachers and parents work so hard to make sure that our kids learn to become autonomous and independent and to take responsibility. Austin might have learned these lessons too well and too soon…..It’s something to think about.”