Casey Taub picked 22 for his jersey number when he was in fourth grade. A lot of soccer kids choose 10 or 9, which tend to be the numbers of the sport’s biggest stars, but the boy from Chappaqua, New York, went with 22 and stuck with it. Nobody really knows why.
It was kind of appropriate, though. Casey was a bit more worldly and wise than the typical 9- or 10-year-old. He would go up to adults at his parents’ parties and strike up conversations. He loved history – so much that as a child he put a mustache of soapsuds on his face in the bathtub and told his mom he was President Chester A. Arthur. His dad, Jonathan, used to wonder, “How is there a 40-year-old man trapped in a 10-year-old body?” Casey wasn’t quite like a 40-year-old, though. Closer to 22.
He was 14 when he came down with what his parents’ thought was vertigo. After a battery of tests, though, there was an unthinkable reason for the dizziness: brain cancer. “Initially I thought it was something a lot of kids recover from,” Jonathan says. “Then we saw it was a mutated tumor, which you never want to hear.” A high school sophomore immediately faced a challenge most never have to fathom.
At one point, Casey looked at his father and asked, “Am I going to die?”
“You immediately tell him, ‘No.’ ” Jonathan says. “What do you do? You pray.”
He gets emotional as he remembers this conversation. He says he would have said “No” even if the doctors gave Casey zero chance. There was a chance for Casey, just not a terribly fair one.
He would need bravery beyond his years, and in some ways he would turn to soccer for support. So would his dad. There were six weeks of radiation, five days a week. There were three surgeries. Over many months there was progress, but as the doctors explained, treatment was “like trying to catch up to a speeding car.” Casey wore his 22 jersey as often as he could, but the chemo weakened him too much to play.
He chose London for his Make-A-Wish. He wanted to meet his beloved Chelsea team. He also got introduced to some of the players on NYCFC back home. Forward Khiry Shelton kept in touch, and he sat with Casey in the hospital. He stayed not for a few minutes, but for hours.
Still, many of the closest relationships for Casey were on his own team. It was hard for him to watch Horace Greeley High play without him, but he became a team manager. Soccer brought him to a place of comfort.
And that made it that much harder when Casey began to struggle even more this past summer.
“When his vision got blurry, when May hit, he really started not wanting to talk to his friends anymore,” Jonathan says. “They’d come over, and just sit with him.”
He gets choked up.
“He soldiered through a lot of stuff,” he says. “He was a trooper. He never gave up.”
Casey Taub entered the hospital the weekend before July 4. He passed away on the 9th. He was 16.
There were 800 people at the funeral. And that would have been enough of a tribute. But there would be one more, at least: a varsity soccer match dedicated to him. It was his teammates’ idea.
“I was all for it,” Jonathan says, searching momentarily for the right words. “For some reason, still, in a way, it sort of gave me comfort that Casey … that I’m still connected to him.”
The decision was made to honor Casey during the 22nd minute, a nod to his number. The fans and players on the sideline would clap for the duration of that minute as the game went on.
The minute came and the ovation began somberly. Then came an unplanned spike in noise and a loud crescendo: Matt LaFortezza, a senior captain on Horace Greeley, scored a goal. The moment was so special that it took another for the crowd to realize: the goal came at 22:22.
“When they started the clapping thing I was OK,” says Jonathan. “As it kept going on, I was overcome. When the goal was scored I was crying and everyone was comforting me.”
Jonathan Taub isn’t a big believer in this sort of thing. He tries to be rational when he says, “For the people who believe in that, they were moved.”
And yet he allows that the series of events was “funky.” He decides to stay with that word, but it’s clear he’s considering other words. Stronger words.
Even if the time of the goal was completely random, the gesture of the game and the tribute was certainly not. Casey’s friends and even his team’s opponents wanted to do something symbolic, and because of that, something even more symbolic happened. Maybe it’s cosmic, maybe not. Who knows? But if anything, 22:22 is a promise to a father and a family that moments with Casey will be easy to remember long after his teammates have left the fields where they all played.
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