By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
High school soccer fans dream of love's warm, cozy feeling as they sit burritoed in stadium seats wrapped in multiple layers of clothing and blankets. January and February winters in Texas are not so miserable as in other northern states. Still, that warm, cozy feeling only comes from the love of the game.
T.J. Zimmer had exactly that.
Zimmer, a former Harker Heights soccer player, died in September 2004 from complications following an August car accident.
Four months after his death, Harker Heights High School started the T.J. Zimmer Memorial Tournament, which opens its fourth year at 6 p.m. tonight.
"For us it's a tournament that we desperately strive to do well in for T.J,, but we've always under-performed," Harker Heights coach Jeremy Key said. "Our goal this year is to win in T.J.'s name. This year's team, this group, seems to be the group that's willing to step up and perform well."
Key's Knights open the tournament against one of three intra-city rivals, Killeen.
"Anytime there's a Killeen-Harker Heights game, it's always a very close and a very hard-fought game," Key said. "They've got a new coach (Sylvester Jallah) that played at Ellison and spent some time on the West coast at a Division I school, so I expect them to play us just as strong as they always have."
In addition to the four Killeen high schools, Austin Akins, Pflugerville, Round Rock Stony Point and Waco University will also be competing in the tournament. All 12 games of the eight-team tournament will be played at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Key said he wanted to keep the field for this year's tournament smaller than in previous years because of the January weather.
"With soccer season being in January, you end up limiting yourself to the weather," Key said. "We wanted to get all the games at Leo Buckley because of the surface."
Akins – last year's tournament champion – and Pflugerville open the action Friday morning at 8 a.m. with Ellison and Shoemaker both opening their tournament play afterward.
"We're looking to continue to improve as a team," Ellison coach Niles Dunnells said. "We're starting to find the right personnel, now we're just trying to put it all together."
The Eagles face 2006 tournament champion Stony Point at 10 a.m. while the Grey Wolves tackle University at noon.
The second round of the tournament begins at 2 p.m. with the winner of Killeen-Harker Heights facing off with the Akins-Pflugerville winner.
The championship game will be played at 11 a.m. Saturday morning with the consolation game to follow at 1 p.m. and loser's bracket finale at 3 p.m.
Last year, fans watching the tournament made sure to lump umbrellas into their cold-weather wardrobe as ice-cold rain showered or drizzled down for virtually both days of the tournament.
Temperatures for the three-day tournament will max out in the low-50s with a 20 percent chance of rain and 10-15 mph wind out of the north. Saturday's high is expected to peak at 55 with 10 mph winds out of the southwest.
"I don't know if the weather is going to be as much a factor as getting out there and getting after it," Dunnells said. "Two games a day tend to take a wear and tear on your body."
Zimmer not only played soccer, but coached as well. He coached a junior league soccer team in 2003 and was looking forward to coaching 9- and 10-year-olds during the fall of 2004 as a senior.
Zimmer suffered from collapsed lungs and broken ribs in the accident, which happened a week before he started his senior year at Harker Heights. Two weeks later, he was back in school and practicing soccer on a limited basis, but was ultimately put back in the hospital with a blood clot at the base of his brain. He went through numerous surgeries but never regained consciousness.
"Mr. and Mrs. Zimmer, they're such models and so strong in their faith. I think that's something that inspires us to do the best we can," Key said. "(T.J.) was very much like his parents. He would always keep fighting and always saw the positive in everything.
"This community has gone through a lot in the past few years, not just with T.J. but with others that we've lost. Anytime we can be a part of something that can remember them like this, it brings us all together."
Contact Kevin Posival at email@example.com or (254) 501-7562.