Cherished jersey becomes healing gift


by - Senior Writer -
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Katelyn and her family at the ACC Championship with a photo of Seth.

College football headlines are dominated in this day and age by stories that highlight the cheating scandals, arrests and the greed that seem to be symptoms of the world we live in.

Take heart college football fans – there are still good people in the game we love, and people can find hope and a sliver of something good, even in a tragedy.

This is a story about two young men who never met. Two young football players who shared a number, a love of Clemson and a love of the game of football, and it is the selflessness of one and the love of family and friends for another that make this story what it is. It is the story of how a tragedy brought two families together, and how one of those families is using the memory of a cherished loved one to provide a brighter day for a hopeful college student.

The story starts with Clemson walk-on and long snapper Sam Van GiesonSam Van Gieson
RS Sr. Long Snapper
#53 5-10, 185
Greer, SC

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, a Riverside graduate who overcame long odds to walk on to the Clemson football team. We profiled Sam last year, in a story that appeared here…http://www.tigernet.com/view/story.do?id=9993.

We all hope that Sam can get into a football game in this, his final season, but football and the cheers of Death Valley will never define Sam Van Gieson, and last year’s article wasn’t the end of the story.

A young Clemson student by the name of Katelyn Wrobel saw the story, and read that Van Gieson wore No. 53 before switching to No. 56 before last season. That number – 53 – reminded her of another young man who wore that number and exemplified the kind of spirit and gritty attitude that Van Gieson has shown during his time at Clemson.

And that is where we get to the second young man in the story: Wrobel’s younger brother, Seth Muennich, was an athletic 14-year old who was enjoying his first year of high school football last September when his life was cut short.

Seth Muennich

Despite his age, Muennich was already standing nearly 6-3 and weighing 200 pounds. He was playing on the junior varsity football team for Buford High School, and enjoyed exchanging playful texts and calls with Katelyn about where he would play college football.

The Clemson Tigers got off to an exciting and fast start to the 2011 season, and Katelyn called Seth on a Tuesday to bounce an idea for a Christmas present off of him.

“I knew Clemson was doing well, and I knew the ACC Championship Game was in Charlotte,” Wrobel told TigerNet this week. “So I called him, and I said, ‘I have an idea. If Clemson goes to the ACC Championship Game, is that okay for a Christmas present?’ He was bouncing off the walls, and I told him, ‘If we make it, then you and me and [younger brother] Tanner are going to that game.’ It was the last conversation I had with him.”

Two days later – on September 29th - Seth and his teammates had just finished school and were making preparations to travel to that evening’s junior varsity game. Shortly before 4 p.m., Seth and some of his teammates walked across busy SC-522 in front of Buford Middle School to go to the convenience store, and Seth was hit and killed on impact.

“I flew out on Thursday for a vacation in Panama City,” Wrobel said. “When I got there, I got the phone call about Seth, and had to wait a night before coming back home. Needless to say, that was a miserable 24 hours.”

On her return to Clemson, Katelyn saw the TigerNet story profiling Van Gieson, and something about the story, the No. 53 and Sam’s courage encouraged her to reach out to her fellow Tiger.


“I saw the story on Sam, and saw he was No. 53, so I asked him if I could get a jersey or something with that number on it,” she said. “Just anything extra with that number on it, something like a practice jersey or a shirt. Our younger brother Tanner, he was 11 years old at the time and he wasn’t talking. I wanted to do something and get him something that would remind him of Seth.”

Sam’s mother – Dana Van Gieson – was there when he received the email from Katelyn.

“I was with Sam as he read her email and he said, ‘I could give him my bowl game jersey [from the Meineke Car Care Bowl] that has #53 on it.’ My breath immediately caught because of not only his generosity but I felt that Sam would want to save that for his children,” Dana said. “When I questioned him, he said, ‘Mom, she lost her brother.’ “

Sam responded to Katelyn with an offer for Tanner and the family, according to Katelyn.

“Sam contacted me and said he would love to give Tanner his jersey from the bowl game, sign it, and meet him on the field,” she said. “We met Sam and his family down on the field after a game, and they gave it to me with it signed, and a few weeks later I was able to take it home to Tanner. Seth’s initials are S.A.M. , so it was like it was meant to be Sam that helped bring some joy into a not-so-fun time. Tanner was smiling from ear-to-ear. He doesn’t show tons of emotion, but you could tell it was definitely something he could cling to. We have a man-cave in our house, and it is decorated in all orange.”

In addition to the jersey, however, there was still another thing that needed to be added to the wall.

“My goal - after all was said and done - was that we were all going to ACC Championship,” Katelyn said. “That was my last promise to Seth - that we would go as a family. So I called and got seats for my parents, my grandparents and aunt and uncle. We went to the game, and took a picture of Seth with us. Now those tickets from the game are all hanging up in the man cave, a good reminder for the family that we were able to take all the hurts we have and turn them into a good memory.”

Seth’s mother, Lisa Muennich, said the number 53 was special to her son and many others.

“You know, for us, we had no idea who Sam was. I had never heard of him. Katelyn read his story and realized he was number 53. The number 53, there is a wonderful thread of character behind that number, through kids we have known,” she said. “Seth chose that number because one his dear friends – someone he looked up to as a mentor – had chosen that number. The friend had chosen that number because someone he looked up to had also worn that number and had passed away.

“The story of one child wearing that number passes from one to another to another to another, and the memory has taken a life of its own. Seth wasn’t your star player, but every coach said they wanted a team of Seth’s because of how hard he played. Every coach said that if they had a team full of Seth’s, they would be a happy coach. When Katelyn talked to Sam, and he offered her that jersey, we were completely dumbfounded and stunned, because we knew how hard he worked for it. That is a pretty special jersey and special piece of his life that he has worked for, and for him to give that to us was truly an unbelievable gesture of support and kindness. It really proves how kind he is and how big of a heart he really has. When we went to the ACC Championship Game, we could truly feel Seth there with us in that game.”

But that isn’t the end of the story.

Katelyn and her family have started a foundation in honor of Seth - called Seth’s Giving Tree - which will raise money to give a scholarship to a deserving young person who would have graduated in Seth’s 2015 class and best exemplifies the character that Seth – and Sam by extension have displayed. The foundation is holding a JV Tournament in Lancaster on August 18th to raise funds in Seth’s memory. Former Clemson kicker Jad Dean will be performing kicks at halftime of the tournament to help raise even more funds.

Donations can be made online at www.yourfoundation.org, click “Make A Donation,” list “Seth’s Giving Tree” in the specific fund line and follow the directions on the page or by sending a check to Seth’s Giving Tree, 3344 Greystone Drive, Lancaster, SC 29720.

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