They probably would have graduated from college last year and been well on their way to finding meaning in their professional lives.
Five years ago, they were still just kids.
Josh Weil and Alex Doody were on senior project and due to fire up their fellow Hawken School lacrosse teammates to hit the road and take on a smoking 11-1 Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin squad that evening.
A two-way midfielder and team captain, Weil was nominated for the all-region team by his head coach, Jim Scully, the previous day. Nearing graduation, Weil was set to attend Middlebury College, a highly selective liberal arts school in Vermont. He was also a football team captain and played trumpet as a member of Hawken’s jazz band.
Doody had just joined the lacrosse team less than two weeks earlier – wanting to play one final sports season with his classmates – and had scored two goals in three games. Coach Scully just got done telling him he was playing darn good lacrosse during the previous day’s practice. But the 6-foot-3 athlete was better known as a gym rat in the basketball community.
Four months earlier, the honorable-mention all-Ohioan splashed a pair of buzzer-beater threes to lead the Hawken cagers to victories against Chagrin Falls, 60-57, and Cuyahoga Heights, 56-53, in the same week. He was admitted to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and planned to walk-on the basketball team there.
“Those two had the strongest work ethics of anybody on both teams I played,” said Charlie Hruby, a 2015 Hawken School graduate who played basketball and lacrosse.
“I mean, Alex was a phenomenal basketball player, and that didn’t come overnight,” Hruby said. “I remember seventh-grade basketball, not to toot my own horn, but I was actually the leading scorer back in the day in seventh grade, when I first transferred to Hawken, and then I remember one summer he just, he grinded the entire summer and just shot a thousand shots a day and just kept going, going, and he soared past me immediately.
“And Josh was just constantly in the weight room, very, very athletic and naturally gifted. But the way he worked on his lacrosse game and improved since eighth grade and freshman year, it was incredible to see. By the time he was a senior, he was a workhorse.”
But Alex Doody, of Hunting Valley, and Josh Weil, of Cleveland Heights, never got to play in that lacrosse game against NDCL on May 14, 2015. In fact, none of the Hawks did. That game was canceled.
Earlier that day, the 18-year-olds died tragically as passengers in a speeding automobile, driven by a classmate, that veered off the west side of County Line Road and struck a tree in Gates Mills.
Five years later, their parents, siblings, extended family, friends, classmates and those in the sports community haven’t forgotten their memories.
“I mean, obviously, I never stop thinking about them,” said Ethan Scully, a 2015 Hawken graduate and fellow co-captain of that lacrosse team. “And I would say one of the more common thoughts that pops into my mind is, where would they be today, five years later, fresh out of college?
“I know both Josh and Alex would have been doing amazing things by now. They’re both two highly dedicated individuals. I could only imagine how college would have changed them, as I know it did to me.”
Scully graduated from the College of Wooster as the Fighting Scots’ all-time leader in caused turnovers on the lacrosse field and was recently named to their all-decade team. He’s currently living in Chicago and is spending a year with AmeriCorps at a legal-aid nonprofit organization.
Scully was best friends with Weil at Hawken. The two went on family trips to the Algonquin National Forest in Canada and to the Adirondacks in New York.
Hruby, meanwhile, graduated from Ohio University with a finance major and is now living in Lakewood and working data analytics at Third Federal Savings and Loan. Growing up in Hudson, Hruby would spend the night at Doody’s any time it snowed in order to have a shorter morning commute to Hawken.
A year behind them in school, Julia Hillenbrand, Weil’s high school girlfriend, has been busy finishing up her thesis this month at Princeton University, which she dedicated to Weil.
And Jack Belkin, who attended Hawken before transferring to Kenston, just graduated from Ohio State University and has a job lined up in Los Angeles. He was best friends with Doody, even while attending and playing basketball at Kenston.
The list goes on.
Weil’s parents, Michael and Meredith Weil, have remained in touch with many of their son’s friends.
“We want desperately to maintain these relationships and see how these kids grow and become a meaningful part of our world,” Mr. Weil said. “And they’re no longer young, which is so hard – I keep referring to them as young adults, but they’re adults. They’re in their 20s; they’re out of college. So, it’s sad to think of what we were missing out on in seeing Josh and Alex grow up. But we’re also really committed to these young adults and seeing them thrive.”
In part of that mission to encourage their sons’ classmates to thrive, the Weil and Doody families set up the Catch Meaning Music Festival, an annual summer series that has been held at Jacobs Pavilion, the House of Blues and the Rock Hall. Weil’s older brother, Sam, is a regular performer at the festival.
The Weils and Doodys also established a Catch Meaning fund with proceeds going toward organizations that guide young adults in their journeys to catch meaning and make a positive impact in the world around them. Last year, the fund provided 10 gifts of $2,019 to different organizations in honor of the 2019 graduates.
The Catch Meaning phrase is a combined theme to promote the legacies of Doody and Weil.
Doody declared, “Catch me if you can,” across the senior page of his high school yearbook, perhaps as a challenge: keep up with me, enjoy life at my energetic, spirited, playful pace, and know that I always will be one step ahead. He was also known as a prankster.
Weil, meanwhile, delved into Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” seeking to understand how the mind works, particularly in the most challenging of situations. He wanted to ask the hard questions, to confront life’s uncertainty and to consider the struggles that people face.
Doody left behind his parents, Rick Doody and Tammy Durn, and sisters Sarah and Charlotte.
“Ultimately, as a parent, you just want your kid to make the most of life and enjoy it and be better,” Mr. Doody said. “And they enjoyed life. Alex and Josh were good kids; they worked hard; they were clean-cut; they didn’t get in any kind of trouble. They worked hard in school and in sports.
“And we probably came up with (Catch Meaning) to encourage their classmates to not waste their lives away. And other people who were close to Alex and Josh, and had this loss, this tremendous loss, don’t use this to feel sorry for yourself.”
While Doody and Weil died in that one-car crash, two of their classmates survived the accident and were treated for minor injuries at Hillcrest Hospital. Excessive speed was a factor in the tragedy, but alcohol was not.
The driver, Chapin Berk, of Aurora, remains in touch with the Weils and Doodys. After Hawken, he went on to study at DePaul University in Chicago.
“All these kids were really close friends, and Chapin is doing well,” Mr. Weil said. “We’ll hear from him, I’m sure, in the next few weeks. You know, we keep in touch every few months. So, Chapin has been really thoughtful about reaching out to us. I think we have a nice relationship with him, and we appreciate that.”
Mr. Weil said he and his wife, Meredith, have made it a priority to stay close to their son’s classmates, and it’s special to them to see those classmates advance and succeed.
The key for young adults to grow and develop all goes back to a message from Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Mr. Weil said.
“People can do really crappy things to us, we can be put in terrible situations, but people who make the most out of those situations by figuring out how to react to it are the ones who thrive,” he said. “The ones who play the victim and feel like the world sucks and it’s not fair what’s happening to them have a lot tougher time dealing with diversity. And it’s an important message for us now.”
With the spring sports season and graduation ceremonies getting canceled from the coronavirus pandemic, those affected may have used the term tragedy a little bit too loosely at times. Devastated might be a better word choice.
However, the Doodys and Weils have a different perspective of tragedy than most.
“Some people look at this as unprecedented, and it is in a way, but we’ve experienced a lot worse than this – at least the Weils and the Doodys have,” Mr. Doody said of the pandemic. “And, in a way, I would turn this into a positive. You get to be home with your family. What better thing is there than that? I mean, at the end of the day, that’s pretty important, right?”
Weil and Doody died too soon, but their memories live on.
Teammate Scully said he remembers all the time he spent at Doody’s house in Hunting Valley, playing paintball in his yard and some basketball against Mr. Doody.
“Alex’s house was always like a playground for all of us,” Scully said. “They were probably sick of us with how much time we spent there.
“And we used to spend a lot of time down in Coventry, just kind of hanging around, going to the records stores, going to Tommy’s for a milkshake. It’s definitely hard to pull out the isolated memories, but there’s a lot of them like that.”
Teammate Hruby also remembers paintball at Doody’s house, as well as dodgeball, pingpong or whatever “stupid game” they could think up, he said.
But when Hruby faces any sort of adversity in the here and now, he always reverts back to how hard both of his buddies used to work.
“When times get tough, you’ve just got to put your head down and work harder than everybody else, and that’s something you can always go back to,” Hruby said. “And that’s exactly what those two did. It’s just something to model your life after, the way those two got after it in high school athletics. And they were very loving as friends too.”
In Doody’s college essay, called, “The Rhythm of the Barn,” he even wrote about his own hard work in basketball and how Hruby motivated him to get better.
Thump, swoosh, thump, thump, swoosh … swoosh, thump, swoosh … clank. It’s that rhythm of hoop life that Doody had grown to need, every day, every season, every year of his teenage life, he wrote in his essay, which starts out by describing his quarter-mile walk to his family barn in the pitch-black morning hours.
“This is a hike I could do in my sleep,” Doody wrote. “Since my teammate Charlie (Hruby) outscored me, 17-1, in our seventh-grade basketball game against Beachwood, I vowed to come up every day to this old barn where a small basketball gym remains.
“At the time, I thought I was never going to practice every day; I just wanted to tweak my jump shot and refine my ball-handling skills to the point where I would surpass Charlie. Never did I think this 100-year-old barn would be my sanctuary.”
By the time senior year rolled around, Doody was the one making all the buzz around Northeast Ohio.
But before that buzzer-beater showdown against Chagrin Falls, a team that would go on and capture a Division II district title that campaign, Doody strained a back muscle and didn’t even know if he could play, his dad said.
“I was on the way to the restroom before the game and ran into the coach from Marietta,” Mr. Doody said. “And he goes, ‘Hey I just drove four hours to watch your son play.’ And I go, ‘Oh, I don’t know if he’s even going to play, coach. I’m sorry, he strained a muscle in his back.’
“And he goes, ‘Ah, you’ve got to be kidding me.’ And then Alex gives me a nod during warm-ups to let me know he’s OK. And I told the coach, ‘Oh, maybe you’ll get to see him. I don’t know how good he’s going to be though.’ And he came out firing. He was pretty on fire that night.”
Doody ended up dropping 37 points to lead the Hawks to a comeback victory, outscoring Chagrin Falls, 24-14, in the four quarter. Tied at 57, Hawken had the final possession with 23 seconds to play. Hawken point guard Langston Burton tried to drive and kicked the ball out with eight seconds left to Tommy Dell, who then swung it to Hruby, who then passed it over to Doody.
Trying to find open space, Doody’s dribble took him back toward the half-court line, where his teammates from the bench screamed at him to launch it. His prayer hit off the back of the rim and rattled home, handing the Tigers one of their three losses that regular season.
Four days later, Doody hit that other buzzer-beater against Cuyahoga Heights.
“It’s fun looking back on that” Hruby said. “It’s just sort of the good memories now that you kind of hold onto.”
In the spring sports season of that school year, the Hawken boys lacrosse team not only canceled that game against NDCL, but they also canceled their regular-season finale against rival University School two days later.
Instead, the Hawks invited their rivals to come out and honor the lives of their teammates at their home stadium. In all, 17 different lacrosse programs showed up for a moment of silence and to show their support at Hawken School.
“And University School, our longtime, bitter rival, that meant the world to see all those boys dressed in red,” Hawken then-head coach Jim Scully said five years ago. “And so many of those guys came out today. It meant a lot – more than I can express.”
In honor of their lost teammates, the Hawks went on to have a playoff run for the ages. In the Division II regional title game, after falling behind, 3-0, the Hawks went on to beat University School, 13-9, ending a 10-game series losing streak against their rivals to earn their first final-four appearance since 2009.
Five years later, the loved ones Doody and Weil left behind now express tribute by staying in touch with the Doody and Weil families, supporting the Catch Meaning Music Fest and simply by talking about and remembering the lives they lived.
The Doodys and Weils said they appreciate when people want to talk about their sons. They don’t want people to think it’s too painful to do so.
“So, they’re not forgotten,” Mr. Doody said. “They’re missed.”
Mr. Weil went on to say that “healing” is the wrong word to associate with their grief. He doesn’t want to be healed from the death of his son, he said.
“Are we sad all the time? For sure,” Mr. Weil said. “We have learned this is something we have to live with. It’s a wound that we have, and I don’t think healing is relevant.
“And because of the person Josh was, and Alex also, they were so young and vibrant and really loved the people around them and the life they were living, that I think the best tribute we could offer them is to do our best to thrive and not be devastated by their loss.”