Logan Skoda walked out of the gym and out to the steps in front of the practice field at the back Emerald Ridge High School.
Inside the school, his fellow seniors on the Jaguar football team were reading letters.
Letters they wrote to their mothers — the “Jag Moms” as they’ve come to be known — as a tribute to all the sacrifices these women have gone through to ensure their children had every opportunity to play football or any sports.
Logan saw and heard his older brothers’ — Kort with Emerald Ridge and Justin with Rogers — words about what it meant to have someone like their mother, Krystal, being a part of their lives. How she guided not only them, but many of the kids in the area with at first the Puyallup Roughriders youth program to then Emerald Ridge High.
She was one of the fiercest and loyal parents a child could want. And each time, the elder Skoda brothers went through the ceremony of their own, first Justin, now 25, then Kort, 21. It should have been an automatic, it’s-been-said-heard-that-before type of ceremony.
“It was supposed to be my tribute to all the sacrifices she went through for me — for us,” said Logan, 18, as tears began to swell under the weight not even six months of healing could mend.
On April 19, Krystal Skoda was laid to rest after a two-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer, a loss that greatly affected the Skoda family and the Emerald Ridge High community at large.
It was supposed to be my tribute to all the sacrifices she went through for me — for us.
The night was a tribute to the parents’ sacrifices, and as each teammate read their letters, Logan’s mind began to fade out — the world began to blur around him as the words he heard became white noise. How could they know what he was going to say?
“I know I can always count on my team. They’re like my brothers — they’re family,” Logan said.
How could they know all the times he stood there with them on the sidelines during practices and games, in the weight room going through one rep of lifting after another, never showing anything more than a smile or give words of encouragement? How could they know how deeply he felt for what Krystal did for him and his brothers, and in return taking care of her when it her health was at its worst, like needing to be fed through a feeding apparatus?
And when it came close to his turn to read his letter, the one he’s been preparing to read to his mother, one that would signify what this one woman has done for him and his brothers Kort and Justin — all the sacrifice she went through for his family — he choked up and walked away.
“I didn’t have the strength to read it in front of everyone,” Logan said through tears.
On that warm August night, Logan stood out by the steps looking at a tree just left of the steps that he’s ascended so many times before. The tree was a memorial for coach Brian Anderson and his family. Krystal’s name had been recently added to the plaque.
“I cried as I read it out loud to her,” Logan said.
Staring at the tree, Logan took a deep breath and began to his letter where no one could hear but his mother.
“I told them that she’ll always be listening. No matter where you are, no matter how you say it to her — she’ll always be listening,” Jeff, the boys’ father, said.
A wound still fresh
Wounds are still fresh with the Skoda family as time has not helped them overcome such a devastating loss to their family. Krystal meant everything to them, and to this day, talking about the loss still leaves everyone choked up and left in tears.
Especially the Skoda boys.
“It still hurts knowing I don’t have that person to reach out to anymore,” Kort, who now plays football at Pacific Lutheran University, admitted.
The Puyallup Herald reached out to Justin, but the loss of his mother has affected him the most, according the Jeff, as Justin is seen the closest resemblance to Krystal in almost every way.
Krystal was more than the matriarch of the Skoda family, as she organized every aspect of her family, especially her three boys.
It still hurts knowing I don’t have that person to reach out to anymore.
For the Skoda family, life had a simple order. Family always came first, followed by football — especially Michigan football.
“What she valued most: the boys first. She always put them ahead of anything else,” Jeff said. “Nothing was going to stop her from missing a game.”
And there she sat on the bench of every home and away game, for both football and baseball. First it was with Justin when he played for Rogers, followed by Kort and Logan at Emerald Ridge. Every season, rain or shine, Krystal was always there watching her boys, cheering them and their teammates on to victory, while giving kind words after a difficult loss.
“Her assessment — no one else’s mattered to me ... to us,” Kort said before cutting himself off as he fought through tears that he’s shed far too often in recent months. “The results never mattered. Just what she said to us.”
Her words after every game were the ones that gave the boys a purpose in the end, the ones that healed their wounds of a hard-fought game.
“I would sometimes bypass my friends who were waiting at the door of the locker room, and go straight to her to talk about the game,” Logan said.
It was a tradition that pained Logan all season long this past senior year. Every time he smiled or laughed with friends, it was the most draining experience to not show anyone the cracks in his armor. Here is a linebacker who was selected as a first-team defender on the 4A SPSL all-league team, who doubles as the Jaguars’ quarterback — a kid expected to double-down as a leader on ER’s football team.
How could he show anyone any ounce of the pain he was feeling, the hurt he had just to get out of bed or walk those steps up to a Jaguar football practice knowing the one rock he had in this world was gone?
“That’s been the hardest thing about this season,” Logan admitted. “Not having the chance to talk to her one more time this season. That’s the biggest regret I have …”
As the words rolled out, Logan broke down to tears. On an October night inside a coffee shop, one night before his final regular-season game against Sumner High, the weight of his senior season came crashing down.
Speaking became too difficult.
A quiet moment
Perhaps its irony or perhaps it’s a cruel twist of fate. Or it could just be how life turned out for the Skoda family.
As Logan is finishing up his senior year at Emerald Ridge, so is Kort, who is in his own final year at Pacific Lutheran University.
For four years, the Skoda family spent Friday nights heading out to an Emerald Ridge football game, only to make a quick turnaround and head out to a PLU game Saturday mornings.
“Honestly, that first year I thought she was going to beat it,” Kort said.
It was the tradition of to be there no matter at what point they were in life.
“To see her go out to Logan’s game, and then have enough energy to be there for mine, meant everything,” Kort said. “It taught me that matter what, family came first. That we came first to her.”
As a defensive end for the Lutes — a big transition from the big-bodied quarterback that was deployed back in his Emerald Ridge days — Kort has come to be a 5-foot-10, 235-pound behemoth of a lineman, yet he’s as gentle of a person there is out there.
The entire PLU season has been a battle for Kort as coming out to each practice, game or to even head to class — something that had extra emphasis placed on it growing up in the Skoda household — just felt weighted.
It was as if chains and an anchor had to be dragged to each.
“Being away was really hard. Especially the last six to seven months. It was really hard going home,” said Kort. “I didn’t want to think it was real at first. For the first two weeks after the funeral, I pretended she was on vacation. I didn’t want to deal with it because I felt guilt being away.”
But the pain always was present.
Kort had a similar moment like his brother, where the seniors were being honored by PLU while they gave back to their parents. Again, here was a Skoda boy in front of a crowd, and instead of powering through it, he stepped down and walked back to his family’s table.
I told them that she’ll always be listening. No matter where you are, no matter how you say it to her — she’ll always be listening.
A quiet space away from everyone.
“We lowered our heads and we spoke out loud everything,” said Jeff, recalling the words that were whispered loud enough for the family to hear at the table. “Kort was able to tell her what he wanted to say, that he couldn’t say in front of everyone.”
Even though Justin has had the hardest time dealing with Krystal’s death, he’s carried each day, and recently he was hired for a job even on a particularly trying day.
“When I talked to him, he told me he wished he could tell her,” Jeff said.
And so they did.
Even though each day is hard on the Skoda boys, and how getting up and just living their lives is a battle. One made easier not just by them, but just knowing who Krystal Skoda was as a mother, as a friend and especially as the fiercest proponent any one community could have.
“They are some of the toughest boys I’ve ever coached. Not just that, but they’re mentally tough,” said Emerald Ridge coach Troy Halfaday, one of Krystal’s closest friends and like family member to the Skodas after knowing the three boys nearly all their lives. “And that all comes from their mother Krystal. All that toughness they show in sports comes from her.”
It’s a sentiment those who knew her echoed.
“She was willing to go to battle for her boys, and quite frankly, every boy on this Jaguar football team,” Halfaday said. “She was someone you wanted on your side.”
The Legacy of Krystal Skoda
Part 1: The Skoda family deals with the loss of the family matriarch.
Part 2: Krystal built a support community of “Jag Moms.”
Part 3: A strong source of inspiration for one family going through tough circumstances.