Joe Faller walked onto the field gingerly, his arms raised over his head in triumph. Across the pitch, his daughter Alyssa celebrated with her teammates, then whirled around and looked for her dad. The two met, near the Queens HS of Teaching sidelines, and shared a long embrace.
A championship — QHST had just beaten Lincoln, 1-0, for the PSAL Class B city title — could not wash away the tragedy that has befallen the Faller family. But for a few minutes, on Randall’s Island last Thursday, there was unencumbered happiness.
“She needed this with all this stuff going on,” Joe Faller said of his daughter. “I’m so happy for her.”
Last month, Joe Faller was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The events since then seem to have been torn out of a movie script. After learning of her father’s illness, Alyssa, who had been out for the season with a left-leg injury, decided she needed soccer as an escape. She told Queens HS of Teaching coach Pat Kehoe the day of the Tigers’ first playoff game that she would be back for the entire postseason.
Faller spurred a magical run. QHST was seeded No. 14, but knocked off No. 3 Clinton in the second round led by her two goals. In the semifinals, the Tigers beat No. 2 Goldstein, 2-1, in overtime on a Kelly Outler golden goal, despite a hobbled Faller. And in the championship game against No. 4 Lincoln, Faller struck in the 65th minute off an assist from Dominique Williams.
The Tigers had dominated play throughout and Faller had a handful of opportunities to score, but the Loyola College-bound senior was only operating with a fraction of her ability due to injuries and being, admittedly, out of shape.
“You keep looking at that clock,” she said. “When it finally happened, all the pressure was relieved.”
Joe, who was advised to stay out of the sun, watched the second half from the family’s car in the parking lot. When his daughter found the net, he jumped out of the vehicle, overwhelmed with joy, and danced.
“And for a white guy, I was doing pretty good,” he said.
Faller’s goal was all Queens HS of Teaching would need. In the 69th minute, Tigers sophomore defender Allison Veloso saved a goal with a tackle on Lincoln junior Anna Kay Lawrence. Eleven minutes later, the game was over. QHST students ran onto the field. The most important celebration, though, was a more subdued one. Between a father and a daughter.
“I just told her I loved her so much,” Joe Faller said, fighting back tears.
He really wasn’t supposed to be out there, in the sun. But this was the only place he wanted to be.
“I don’t know how many more of these moments I’m gonna have with my children,” he said.
Added Alyssa: “I was really happy he was here. This is who he raised me to be.”
There is still hope for Joe Faller. He and his family have met with doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center, both in Manhattan, and Monday they were scheduled to go down to Duke University in North Carolina. Duke has one of the leading neuroscience programs in the country. It’s where U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts had his brain tumor removed last month.
“Now, we’re looking for another miracle,” said Carina Faller, Joe’s wife and Alyssa’s mother.
Before the game, Joe addressed the team. He told them to fulfill their destiny, to take home what was rightfully theirs. The girls were in awe. This was someone they had known for years — Joe Faller rarely missed one of his daughter’s game — and here he was out supporting them again despite his illness.
At halftime, junior Amanda Viteri was struggling with a leg injury. Kehoe thought he would have to give her a pep talk to go back out there for the final 40 minutes. But it was just the opposite. Viteri spoke in front of the team with emotional words.
“I told them that we needed to do it for Joe,” she said.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@
©2008 Community News Group