Kennerley honors fallen comrade with victory
Greg Kennerley encountered challenging times as a freshman at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Unlike most colleges, reporting day at the academy is in mid-June, followed by seven weeks of vigorous boot camp.
When boot camp ends, classes begin. For Kennerley, that meant the rigors of soccer as well, on top of daily military requirements.
“Freshman year is tough,” said Kennerley, who helped lead Weymouth High to a Division 1 South title in 2007. “Every single day is a grind, so it’s always nice to have somebody there to pick you up who has been through it.”
For Kennerley, that someone was Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Cameron, who graduated from the academy in 2008 and returned as an assistant soccer coach in 2009 while he waited to attend flight school.
Cameron offered Kennerley the assurance that he had made the right decision in enrolling at the academy, and reassured him that he had the skills to play soccer there too.
“He told me that if there was anyone qualified to carry on the legacy of being aggressive and demonstrating the intensity of Coast Guard soccer, that it was me,” said Kennerley, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior center back. “That really picked me up. He was always there to keep me in the right frame of mind.”
When word spread that Cameron had been killed during a training mission last February, it hit the men’s soccer program hard, especially Kennerley and Coast Guard coach Chris Parsons, who considered Cameron part of his family.
To help with the healing process, Parsons decided that instead of retiring Cameron’s No. 12, his jersey “will be worn each year by a senior whose leadership, hard work, and relentless desire to win mirrors what Thomas brought . . . during his five years with the program.”
Kennerley is the first player selected. “It’s absolutely an unbelievable honor,” he said. “Everyone loved and respected [Cameron]. He was an honors student and an unbelievable soccer player. Thomas was everything you want in a Coast Guard officer, and to wear his number and represent him is a huge honor for me.”
Prior to a Sept. 8 game between Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine Academy, the Bears honored Cameron. And in movie script fashion, the 21-year-old Kennerley scored two goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-1 victory over the Mariners. Coast Guard had not defeated Merchant Marine since 1999.
“It was really something out of Hollywood,” said Parsons.
“The great part about that day was that we played the US Merchant Marine Academy, so both corps are in the stands. You’re talking 1,000 people for a Division 3 soccer game, and they are all in uniform. When I was speaking [to the crowd about the honor], it was clear that both groups of students know the risks they take. It was an emotional day for everyone there and then Greg comes out and scores two goals. We hadn’t beat them in a long time, so it was pretty special.”
Kennerley, a two-year captain who is majoring in operations research and computer analysis, leads the Bears with three goals, including two game-winners. He is Coast Guard’s main weapon on throw-ins and corner kicks, and Parsons expects him to score his fair share of goals on headers during those situations. Kennerley shares his captaincy with junior midfielder John Rendon of Harwich, who has one goal and two assists.
“Greg is really our team leader and he’s embraced this role of honoring Thomas,” said Parsons. “He’s played center back for the last two years and he runs the show. He brings a nice physical dimension and can set the tone of the game with a good hard tackle.”
The Bears (4-3, 2-0 New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference) are off to one of their best starts in several years. Kennerley believes that playing in memory of Cameron could lead to good things.
“He was definitely with me during that first game,” Kennerley said. “The last few years have been frustrating because we’ve been right around the .500 mark. But we’re looking to get over the hump this season and win the conference.”
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