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Remembering Caroline Found

HS journalism: First of 2 books out chronicling tragedy, triumph

Ernie Found holds up the Golden Spike as he gets hugs from Iowa City West's Shelly Stumpff (11) and Olivia Fairfield (18) following their victory over City High on Sept. 20, 2011 at City High in Iowa City. Ernie Found is the father of West High setter Caroline Found, who died in a moped accident in August. (The Gazette)
Ernie Found holds up the Golden Spike as he gets hugs from Iowa City West's Shelly Stumpff (11) and Olivia Fairfield (18) following their victory over City High on Sept. 20, 2011 at City High in Iowa City. Ernie Found is the father of West High setter Caroline Found, who died in a moped accident in August. (The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — On Aug. 11, 2011, tragedy struck the West High community when Caroline Found died in a moped crash. Less than two weeks later, her mother, Ellyn Found, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.

Today, they are remembered through their respective slogans, “Live Like Line” and “Love Like Ellyn,” and last month, Ice Cube Press publishing shared their stories through a book.

Bill Hoeft, author of “Live Like Line, Love Like Ellyn,” has been working on the book for four years.

“I wrote the book because it’s a local story and with the deaths being so close, it made you think, ‘Wow, I would not be able to handle that.’” Hoeft said. “And with the volleyball team going on without her and winning state — it was an amazing story.”

The story was not always as amazing as Hoeft recalls. It began tragically.

Caroline was driving down Mormon Trek Boulevard on her way home from a church event when she lost control of her moped, hit a tree and died instantly. With the book, Hoeft hopes to spread awareness for helmet laws, as well as Caroline and Ellyn’s story. Looking back on the beginning of their story, memories of sadness fill the book.

“What I remember the most about Caroline was her smile ... her smile and her laugh,” said Ernie Found, Caroline’s father. “She could almost make light of something despite of how serious it might be at the moment in order to make everybody feel better.”

Former West student Laynie Whitehead was a friend and former teammate of Caroline.

“The morning after she passed away was the saddest thing I have ever experienced,” she said. “My mom woke me up very early to tell me the news, and I didn’t believe her until I got to West. Then, I got to the gym and all of the volleyball girls and their parents were there grieving together. The lights were off and all you could hear were sobs.”

Whitehead’s retelling of events, as well as many others, has affected Hoeft’s emotions.

“I don’t go to funerals unless I absolutely feel pressed to go,” he said. “So ... watching their funerals years later on videos and writing about them, I became depressed. I had to step away from writing the story for two months. I couldn’t even sit down at the computer anymore.”

Writing this book has made Hoeft think about his responsibilities as the author.

“I’m not sure I was the one to write the book. I think I was called to it,” he said. “There were so many things that happened along the way that made it seem like God called me to write this book. When I needed someone or a piece of information, all of the sudden they would just appear. It was more than a coincidence.”

Ernie Found was the most help to Hoeft while he was writing the book, but finding trust and retelling events was not always easy.

“The hardest thing to tell Bill was how much my heart was broken. Eventually, I was able to (tell him) with lots of tears and breaking down, and lots of perseverance that Caroline and Ellyn’s legacy would be continued,” Found said.

Besides the upcoming release of Hoeft’s book, Kathy Bresnahan, P.E. and health teacher and former head volleyball coach, has signed with LD Entertainment to start the production of a movie based on her own novel, “West on Nine,” which tells the story of the volleyball team’s journey. The book will not be released until the movie is finished in late 2016.

“We appreciate Bill’s effort to chronicle our amazing journey in the fall of 2011. That being said, however, his account of the volleyball season is just that: his interpretation, not necessarily ours,” according to a statement provided to West Side Story by the volleyball team.

Despite their different outlooks, Bresnahan said the team is supportive of anything that helps share Ellyn and Caroline’s stories. Caroline and Ellyn’s loving spirit has helped the team accept Hoeft’s telling of events.

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“Simply, Caroline has inspired me to be a better person. She taught me to love a little harder, laugh a little more, and not to fret the small stuff,” said Ally Disterhoft, a friend and former teammate. “I think that her story has inspired hundreds of other people as well, and that is truly amazing. I also knew Ellyn, and she too was an incredible lady. Ellyn and Ernie, Caroline’s father, are two of the most loving, genuine people I have ever met in my life.

“I am a better person today because I knew Caroline. To know her was to love her, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do both.”

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.