Sep. 12—Within the high school sports orbit, we are all guilty of taking for granted what is assumed to be constant.
Something or someone will be there "next time."
Yet deep down, despite our best hopes, we know better, as forever only goes so far.
There comes a time when, begrudgingly, we bid farewell to the constants that make our experience in this pursuit feel more certain and comfortable.
One of those came for me Aug. 11, sitting beyond the northwest touchline at Mentor's soccer stadium prior to a girls match against visiting Chagrin Falls.
The three words from Cardinals athletic director Jeff Cassella and those that followed required no further explanation of significance for me or what they meant on that campus.
"We lost Pam."
In late June, longtime Mentor supporter Pam Crysler died at the age of 67.
Longtime Mentor sports supporter Pam Crysler passes away
The tributes, as they should, poured out over the summer and into August as her death became more public knowledge.
Whether at soccer or track or field or basketball or anywhere, there may have been no one more invariably linked to Mentor athletics.
The truth in that statement can be displayed in part by me breaking a writing rule amid this column. Typically, you refer to people after an initial reference by their last name.
That doesn't feel appropriate here.
Not for a person who touched so many lives. Not for a person known for their unselfish commitment to their school that knew no limits of time or logistics. Not for a person with such deep reverence.
And for me, not for someone with whom I spent so much time in my work for nearly 20 years, a constant of the highest order.
To me — and to generations at Mentor and those who visited — she was Pam.
So in this case, a style rule is broken. But a life is honored in the first-person manner it so richly merits.
I couldn't imagine a Mentor home soccer match, football game or track and field invitational for which I was in attendance without Pam's warmth as a host.
Pam wouldn't allow someone walking into her alma mater, especially someone who spent so many hours there, to not feel welcome. That extended to when Mentor was on the road, too.
In the office, hearing Pam's voice after a soccer match I didn't cover or after a basketball or football game reporting a box score was a pleasant break from monotony.
Before venturing closer to the pitch in the social-media age, many afternoons and evenings for years on end were spent at the Mentor soccer stadium in that press box one window over talking to Pam through matches.
Every new school year was marked with that first trip to Mentor, seeing Pam and that joyful "Chris!" exuberance, thrilled to see me again and greeting with a hug.
It always struck me how expansive the circle of people who hugged Pam was.
Longtime current and former visiting coaches. Mentor student-athletes who had gone on to college. Parents from all sports. The current edition of people who made Mentor's campus brim with athletic life.
All of them had time for, and welcomed, a greeting from Pam.
As we each got older, those conversations at soccer matches and track and field meets were among the highlights of my day, week and year.
Pam and I would discuss the area scene in the sport, including her beloved school. We would discuss absurdity and soap-opera drama, if there were any. She would ask when the next time she'd see me would be.
She would ask about me beyond The News-Herald. She would ask about my daughter.
Kaley is 10 now and just began fifth grade. Many of her milestones early in life, Pam knew because she asked, and because she cared.
Pam's duties at Mentor ranged to announcer to statistician, from copier to accompaniment. Really, it's impossible to quantify the value she had.
Of course, any mention of Pam would be remiss without mentioning her trademark candy bags and passing out those treats at events. It was wintergreen Life Savers for me. Every time.
Her unwavering support of Mentor athletics, and by extension of local high school soccer, track and field, basketball and more, was a life saver.
Everyone who would know did know that to be true.
Bridging the pandemic, seeing Pam became less frequent. She had my cell phone number and would occasionally text me or follow me on Twitter, even though it wasn't a regular stop for her.
In 2021, when the state track and field meet was separated by divisions amid the pandemic, the afternoon of June 5 was an emotional one for Mentor.
The Cardinals, with their best girls track and field team in school history, were bringing to culmination an outright and elusive Division I state team championship. The tears flowed, from student-athletes to parents and well-wishers.
Mentor wins first girls track and field state team title to pace banner area day
Toward the end of that D-I Day 2, Pam texted me. She told me how she was following along with me on Twitter and how the concept of Mentor reigning in such a meaningful manner in Ohio made her cry.
Obviously, I couldn't see Pam as she delivered that message. But from all our years together, I could feel and sense the emotion from three hours away at Hilliard Darby. It was palpable.
Sadly, Pam's interaction became even less frequent in the two years that followed.
At every Mentor soccer match. At every Mentor Cardinal Relays. At any Mentor sporting event that otherwise would have brought me in contact with her. Events still went on fine, but it felt as if something was missing — much less importantly for me, but more so for the school she loved so much.
I knew Pam's health had taken a turn in recent years, and deep down I suspected that constant in my professional life was not returning.
Still, hearing those three words, "We lost Pam," filled me with sadness.
I will miss those conversations, and those hugs, dearly.
As her life's journey wound down, I hope Pam knew with all her heart this love affair wasn't just about her toward Mentor.
It was also us — Mentor and the broader high school sports community — toward her.
Pam brought joy and solace to generations and an affinity in reciprocation.
We are all guilty of taking for granted what is assumed to be constant.
In this rare instance, however, Pam may not be seen anymore at Mentor.
But Pam's constant presence will be felt, evergreen like her.