WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- When Matt Stratman and his dad said their goodbyes three weeks ago, not knowing they would be the last words they would hear from each other, a heart-filled "I love you" said it all.
Matt's dad described that precious moment in a text message Saturday to Elgin Card, principal at Lakota West High School, a few hours after the 15-year-old lacrosse player died. Card shared the message before a prayer vigil for Matt Saturday night.
"Never take those three words for granted," Ron Stratman texted, "as Matt’s last spoken words were, 'I love you, Dad,' when I dropped him off at a friend’s house. I simply responded with, 'I love you, too, Matt Man.'”
Matt died Saturday morning after three weeks in a coma. He suffered a stroke and collapsed after a lacrosse game on June 9.
Matt's mom, Julie Wygant Stratman, posted this message on Facebook Saturday:
"This morning our son Matt took his last breath as the sun was coming up.
"Ron & I were at his side as his heart stopped beating.
"We will forever have a void in our family.
"I miss you, Matt Man.
"Thank you for all the love, support and prayers."
Family, friends, classmates and the community had prayed for Matt's recovery, made video messages to comfort and support him, wore #StratmanStrong T-shirts and bracelets, posted well wishes around West Chester and held fundraisers. At the end, hundreds grieved Saturday night at the high school football field.
No information about funeral services was immediately available.
“When it happens, your stomach just drops. It takes your breath away. There’s absolutely no way to prepare for it,” Athletic Director Scott Kaufman said Saturday night. “The initial shock, and then you switch gears. ‘What do we have to do for our kids?' With the shock of what happened this morning, it was a matter of having a place where kids could gather."
Kaufman said he hopes Matt's friends and classmates "carry his memory in his honor."
"You honor his memory by living in what was important to him. He was an energetic, motivated young kid who made the most out of every day," Kaufman said. "Hopefully that’ll be inspirational to his friends."
Kaufman also got the text from Ron Stratman Saturday. His reaction?
“Hugging your kids a little tighter," Kaufman said.
"One of the texts I got from Dad tonight, the last words Matt said to me were, 'I love you, Dad.' We all need to say that to each other a little more," Kaufman said. "Hug our kids a little tighter. Say 'I love you' a little more often. Don’t take anything for granted. Tomorrow isn’t promised.”
Julie Vonderhaar, a family friend and Fairfield Township administrator, asked people to continue praying for the Stratman family, who she said has been resilient over the past few weeks. She also hoped others would learn from their example.
Card and Kaufman said they were proud of Matt's classmates and the Lakota West community for the way they supported Matt and his family.
“I’m very proud of our students - the way they’ve risen up, taken a bull by the horns, organized and done so many things for Matt and his family,” said Card.
"To see the ways this community has come together to support this family and young man is powerful and inspiring,” said Kaufman.
Today #WEareLakota mourns the loss of a student, an athlete, son, brother, grandson, leader & friend. There are simply some things we cannot explain. The Streets of Heaven are too crowded w/ Angels tonight.
Our continued thoughts & prayers #StratmanStrong Family and friends. pic.twitter.com/sKnCEgxxXB
There will be a community gathering to mourn Matt from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Center Pointe Christian Church, 5962 Hamilton-Mason Road. Grief counselors will be on hand.
Matt's stroke came suddenly and unexpectedly. When he collapsed, teammates thought he had fainted because of the heat.
Coach Steve Burkhardt and the team called for medical services and moved the unconscious Stratman into the shade, where they thought he might recover. Instead, he stopped breathing.
At Children's Hospital, Stratman was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation -- an abnormal but usually asymptomatic connection between veins and arteries that can sometimes lead to symptoms such as headaches, seizures and stroke.