Matthew Gooch is a state champion. In fact, the Howells-Dodge (Ne.) High senior is a perfect one at that, leading the small -- no, tiny -- town team to a state title without a single loss just a year after falling at the final hurdle. En route, Gooch earned all state honors, proving that his ability to dominate a game transferred from the football field to the basketball court.
The entire season was almost perfect, save for the crowd. It was missing two key people who were never going to be there. Matthew Gooch’s parents missed all of his games as a senior, just as they missed all of his games since the age of 9. They are both buried 40 miles away, leaving behind Matthew and his siblings after his father, Jim Gooch, killed his mother, Kathy, and then committed suicide himself.
As covered in more depth by a fantastic, emotionally-draining profile by the Omaha World-Herald, Gooch has found the strength to move beyond the tragic end that befell his parents thanks to the Howells-Dodge community and his adoptive parents, his uncle and aunt, Daylin and Chris Riesch. Over the course of nine years, Gooch has found a way to come to grips with the fact that his father killed his mother in cold blood, then hung himself from a tree. Miraculously, he’s found a way to respect both of their memories, all while growing and thriving into one of his new hometown’s favorite sons.
Gooch is talented enough to play college basketball somewhere. He might even have the skills to play defensive end on the football field. Yet the teen is driven by a love of fixing mechanical things, and plans to attend Southeast Community College and study electromechanical technology.
By the time the 2013 state title game arrived, Gooch was ready for a fitting swan song. He scored 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 7 shots in leading Howells-Dodge to a 49-34 victory, as covered by the Lincoln Star Journal, a fitting capstone to an impressive career, and an even more impressive transformation.
“It kind of hit me that I just have to keep going,” Matthew told the World-Herald about coming to grips with his parents’ past. “I finally came to peace with it.”
Now, Howells-Dodge will have to come to grips with the departure of Gooch. They’ll be sure to do so with a smile, thinking back on all he has accomplished and overcome.