After 25 years and ticking, Nash Memorial still kicking

Twenty-five years ago, the North Myrtle Beach community came together to turn tragedy into something positive. A quarter-century later, that mission continues with the Michael Nash Memorial Soccer Tournament.

Held last weekend at the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, the annual kickoff to the high school soccer season featured 15 teams from the Grand Strand and throughout the state in action for three days.

While none of the hundreds of players were born when the tournament’s namesake and former NMBHS soccer standout was alive and kicking for the Chiefs, the tournament serves as a fitting tribute for athletes hoping to follow in his cleat marks to the college ranks.

“We share his story with our kids every year to help them remember Michael,” said NMBHS girls coach and tournament director Lori Ruggieri. “Most of them grew up playing on the rec field that’s named after him, so they make that connection. He is still an inspiration for our players.”

Nash was a star for the Chiefs and, through hard work and dedication, achieved his dream of playing college soccer. He walked on and red-shirted at College of Charleston as a freshman and was one day away from returning for his sophomore year when tragedy struck.

Nash was killed on Aug. 10, 1993, while working at a bungee-jumping attraction in Atlantic Beach. The accidental elevator collapse occurred on what was scheduled to be Nash’s final summer shift, one he had traded with a co-worker so he could play soccer with friends later that evening.

“(C of C soccer coach) Ralph Lundy rented a bus and brought the whole team to Michael’s funeral,” recalled then-NMB boys soccer coach Newt Merricks. “It was amazing to see how much he meant to the team in such a short period of time, but that’s the kind of kid he was.

“Michael’s heart was so big that people just wanted to be around him. He had some trouble when he was younger but about his freshman year he got his act together and started doing everything right. He wasn’t the greatest athlete, but he made up for it with his will and determination. We didn’t want his memory to end.”

So in March of 1994, the inaugural Michael Nash Memorial Soccer Tournament was held with four local boys teams on a small field off Possum Trot Road that now carries Nash’s name. Today, the tournament has expanded to include girls and out-of-area teams, and relocated to the state-of-the-art sports complex to accommodate the increased attendance and participation.

The Nash Memorial is the second-longest local high school tournament behind the Beach Ball Classic and also raises scholarship funds for NMBHS soccer players. To date the tournament has awarded more than $140,000 in scholarships. The tournament serves as a source of pride for Nash’s No. 1 fan, mother Linda Given.

“It’s such a wonderful thing that we could keep this going for so long and how much it has grown over the years,” said Given said, whose grandchildren, Haley and Noah, have played on their late uncle’s field. “I can’t even imagine what Michael would think of this. He was pretty modest so he would probably think, ‘I can’t believe they’re making all this fuss over me.’ ”

The players carried on Nash’s spirit on the pitch, with both North Myrtle Beach squads advancing to the finals. Socastee defeated the Chiefs 6-2 in the boys final, and South Aiken shut out the Lady Chiefs 8-0 in the girls title match. The St. James, Socastee and Conway boys and girls team took part, along with the Carolina Forest boys and Myrtle Beach girls.

Photo by Keith Jacobs/myhorrynews

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