Brooke Kappenberg arrived at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School early Monday morning, well before the opening practice of the 2016 season scheduled for 5 p.m. The Mercy sophomore was set to begin her first season playing on the Monarchs’ varsity tennis team, and she was so eager to begin, she stopped by JV practice first.
“I was the first one to hit a ball,” she said.
When the moment finally arrived later in the afternoon, Brooke and her teammates stepped onto the new, rebuilt and expanded tennis courts on the Mercy campus to officially begin a new season. For Brooke, the moment was more than just about tennis. The courts honor the memory of one of her heroes, a man who served as an inspiration in many ways during his 38 years in Riverhead: Keith Goodale, Brooke’s uncle.
“He never gave up; he was always happy,” Brooke said.
That the first date for fall practices fell on Aug. 22 appeared to be fate for those gathered Monday at the high school for a blessing of the Keith Goodale Memorial Tennis Courts, which were built through donations by the Goodale and Kappenberg families. Monday would have been Keith’s 39th birthday. He died in February after a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.
Keith never sought to be defined by his disease. He pushed through his limitations, became a member of the Riverhead Fire Department and raced a legends car at Riverhead Raceway along with his brother Jeffrey Goodale.
“It was unbelievable,” said Bryan Kappenberg, who’s Brooke’s father and Keith’s brother-in-law. “That guy, you took a look at him and you could not believe he was out on that track.”
About 10 years ago Keith underwent a double lung transplant, a procedure that gave him renewed life and energy but also started the inevitable ticking clock. Even after successful surgery, the immune system eventually begins to reject the new organs. After three years, the survival rate for those receiving lung transplants diminishes to between 55 and 70 percent, according to WebMD.
“He had a good number of years after his lung transplant,” said Tracy Kappenberg, Keith’s sister. “He had a new lease on life and he took advantage of everything.”
There was no way to know how much time the family would have left with Keith after the transplant. Medical advances were always possible and new medication could help prolong the body’s ability to maintain the foreign lungs, Tracy said.
Still, the clock was ticking.
“His doctors were just amazed at how well he handled the surgery,” said Tracy, who lives with her family in Baiting Hollow.
Bryan said Keith could be summed up in one word: toughness.
“It’s unbelievable what he accomplished facing the challenges that he did,” he said. “I always say, Keith was tougher than any guy I ever knew.”
The story of the new tennis courts begins back in winter. At a two-hour meeting with parents, athletic director Melissa Edwards outlined a presentation on some of the department’s needs and the future of the athletic program. Part of that presentation included improving the tennis courts. For all the success the tennis program has had over the past decade — winning five league titles and twice being ranked top-10 on Long Island —the Monarchs were stuck playing at a facility with just four courts. That limited the number of girls who can practice at one time, and also prolonged the length of competitions, which feature four singles matches and three doubles matches.
After the meeting, she said Tracy approached her and said her family had interest in contributing a donation. The Mercy roots run deep in the Goodale and Kappenberg families and the school has always held a special place in their heart, particularly for Keith. His mother, Catherine Goodale, attended Mercy and Tracy followed suit during her high school years and played tennis. Brooke represents the third generation to attend Mercy.
The capital project to expand to six courts accelerated quickly and work began around when the prior school year ended. The courts were completed in time for the first practice and the finishing touches are expected to be completed in time for the first match next month, at which time the school will host a formal dedication.
“To put in the tennis courts in memory of Keith is just a phenomenal thing and it’s such a great tribute,” the athletic director said.
Mercy tennis coach Mike Clauberg said he remembers the excitement around campus when the original courts were installed more than a decade ago, giving students the chance to play on campus for the first time.
“We’ve always had a big interest in tennis at Mercy,” he said. “It’s a credit to the administration for seeing the need for [new courts] and to be able to find someone to help support it.”
During his years at Mercy, from which he graduated in 1995, Keith played on the baseball team. While he didn’t play tennis, his father had always enjoyed the sport. Tracy recalled on Monday one particular time her father brought Keith to play doubles in a tournament hosted by Times Review Media Group.
The match didn’t end well, she said with a laugh. The duo was soundly beaten.
Tracy said she hopes her daughter will find inspiration over the next three years playing on the courts named after her uncle.
“We joke with her and say, ‘OK, you got to work hard for him,’ ” she said.
Keith was never one to seek the spotlight, his family said, and while he undoubtedly would have been honored to see the school he loved honor his legacy, he would have been humbled as well.
“To know that Brooke was going to be benefited by it, he’d love it,” Bryan said.