THROUGH LOSS, GTCC BASEBALL PLAYER FINDS SUPPORT

When the unimaginable happened to Jonathan Kuebler, his teammates helped him move forward.

By Jana Carver

Jonathan Kuebler (Photos by Carrie Lilly)

Jonathan Kuebler (Photos by Carrie Lilly)

JAMESTOWN, N.C. — Jonathan Kuebler grew up loving baseball.

“I’ve been playing pretty much my whole life,” said Kuebler, 19, who began playing baseball at age four.

His passion for the game comes from his father, Charles, who instilled in him hard work and respect. He also played a big role in Kuebler attending Guilford Technical Community College. Although attending a community college wasn’t on Kuebler’s radar, his father encouraged him to consider it because of his own positive experience as an athlete at a community college.

“School was never easy for him,” Kuebler said of his dad. “Going to junior college was more of a decision for him because of grades. I had other options because I had better grades than he did out of high school, but with baseball, this was still the better option for me.”

Kuebler’s decision to enroll at GTCC led him to a team that became like family and stood by him when Kuebler and his family experienced the unimaginable.

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After successfully completing his first semester at GTCC, Kuebler came home for the summer to his hometown of Wilmington, N.C. to spend time with family and friends.

On the morning of July 26, 2016, Kuebler’s father went for a routine swim in the Atlantic Ocean around 8 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, where he would often swim from pier to pier. At the time, Kuebler was playing golf with a friend.

“It was just an ordinary day for me,” he said.

Then, Kuebler got a call from his brother around 3 p.m. No one had heard from his father since he left for his swim that morning. Kuebler said he didn’t think much of it at the time. His father loves talking to others, so he thought maybe he got caught up in a conversation with someone. But deep down, Kuebler felt something was wrong.

“My brother said, ‘You need to come down here right now,’ and I knew something wasn’t right. I could just tell in his voice,” Kuebler said.

When Kuebler reached the beach and saw the Wrightsville Beach Police and a rescue squad, he said the gravity of the situation hit him.

“I don’t know what it was, but it instantly popped into my mind that I was never going to see my dad again,” he said.

After 48 hours, the Coast Guard suspended its search for Charles, but friends and family continued looking for weeks. They never recovered his body.

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Jonathan Kuebler with his teammates. (Photos by Carrie Lilly)

Jonathan Kuebler with his teammates. (Photos by Carrie Lilly)

As soon as Kuebler’s teammates and head coach, John Barrow, learned about Kuebler’s father, they did what they could to be there for him.

“A couple of my buddies from the team offered to come help, and Coach Barrow really wanted to come down,” he said. “He called me as soon as he found out.”

Barrow learned about the passing of Kuebler’s dad through the parent of another player on the team.

“Honestly, I had no idea what to say or do. It was such a helpless feeling,” Barrow said. “It was very difficult finding the words.”

When the season started in January 2017, the team showed their solidarity and support for Kuebler by adding his dad’s initials “C.K.” to their uniforms.

“I left it up to the team to design them,” Barrow explained. “The team came to me with the idea of honoring Jon’s father and I was immediately on board with it.”

“It meant a lot,” Kuebler said, “because I knew that they would always be there for me.”

Since his father’s death, Kuebler has maintained a 4.0. He says that his father’s influence on his life, and the huge support system he has, helped him move forward. His dad’s loss will always be with him, but Kuebler says he owes it to his father to keep living the life he wanted for his son.

“I’ve known people whose lives have completely turned for the worst because of stuff like this,” he said. “But I can’t do that. Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean I can turn my back on everything I learned from him and hate the world.

“My dad faced a lot of adversity in his life, but he always persevered. … It feels like I’m kind of following in his footsteps.”

Kuebler is graduating from GTCC this month (May 2017), with plans to transfer to a four-year university and study exercise science.

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May 9, 2017