Anne Arundel County's youth soccer Blackhawks have played this season with Trooper Shaft S. Hunter's memory firmly in mind.
Hunter, who was killed in an on-duty crash this spring, was a major benefactor of the team. His son, Deion, is a midfielder for the Blackhawks, and Hunter regularly worked extra shifts to help pay for players who could not afford team fees and travel costs.
"Those are sort of like his sons," his wife, Rose Hunter, said.
The Blackhawks, ages 13-14, won their regional championship this year and earned a second-straight bid to the US Club Soccer national finals. But the team has found Shaft Hunter's off-field contributions difficult to replace. Their fundraising task has been more difficult this year because the finals, usually held in Virginia Beach, were moved to Boise, Idaho.
The Division 1 team in the Arundel Soccer Association needs to raise $18,000 before next weekend to send 18 players and several coaches to the tournament. They've raised about $6,000 since the end of June.
Though Hunter would not have been able to raise all the funds himself, "he knew a lot of people" who would have been able to help with sponsorships and donations, Rose Hunter said.
Sabri Jemli, 14, is a midfielder for the Blackhawks and said the closely knit team owes a lot to Hunter.
"We see each other not as teammates, but as brothers," Sabri said. "It hurt all of us to know that [Deion's] dad died."
Deion Hunter said his father was a very busy man but always found time to support the team. He said even though his father would usually get only a few hours of sleep because of his demanding work schedule, "he'd been to games to support us." He was unaware that his father had been taking extra shifts to support his fellow players.
"My dad is a very generous man," Deion said when he was told that his father had been funding players for years. "I'm actually not shocked that he would do something like this."
Sabri said Hunter was always trying to find sponsors and encourage donations for the team to make sure that they had all the equipment they needed. That included jerseys, cones and balls, as well as travel expenses for players who couldn't afford it.
"Unfortunately, some of the players can't afford all of that stuff," Sabri said.
Comlan Kouhiko, 14, is one of those players. His family moved to the United States from the Ivory Coast in 2009, and he has been playing with the Blackhawks ever since. His family does not have enough money to support his travels with the team, but Hunter had always been there to help him out, and he was very upset to hear about his death.
"I felt terrible because that guy was a great man. He helped me out a lot," Comlan said.
Comlan said that now everyone on the team is doing as much as they can to fund the trip to nationals. The team made it to the tournament last year but did not perform very well, he said.
"This year, we've learned from our mistakes," Comlan said.
According to Nancy Horne, the mother of one of the players and the parent in charge of public relations for the team, all of the boys have been asking for donations and selling raffle tickets to the Manchester United vs. Barcelona game in Washington that will take place at the end of this month.
"We don't have anyplace to stay if we don't get the funds," Horne said. The tournament begins July 29.
The team is holding a yard sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Provinces Park. Donations of money or items for the sale are tax-deductible, and items should be dropped off by 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Donations can also be made online at http://www.asablackhawks.com through a PayPal account.