SM East students, teachers and parents today are mourning the loss of senior Tyler Rathbun, who died early Sunday morning in an ATV accident on a classmate’s family farm.
Medical crews were called to the south Miami County property around 3 a.m. Sunday where they found a Polaris off-road vehicle carrying four teens had rolled over, killing Rathbun and injuring the driver. Rathbun was 17.
As news of Rathbun’s death spread Sunday, classmates and other community members responded with an outpouring of shock and sentiments of deep admiration for his character. Classmates on Twitter used the hashtag #RIPTR to express their condolences and share memories of his gentle nature, great humor and friendship. Many gathered at a quickly organized prayer service Sunday evening at Hillcrest Covenant Church.
A four-year starter on the SM East soccer team who was recently named the Sunflower League’s offensive MVP, Rathbun was known as much for his amiability and smile as for his athletic prowess. After making the varsity team as a freshman, he got the nickname “Puppy” — and it stuck through his senior year.
“He was almost alway the best player on the field, but he was never one to take credit,” said teammate Mitch Kaskie. “It sounds cliche, but everyone loved him. He was friends with everyone. He was always a joy to be around.”
Head soccer coach Jamie Kelly first started working with Rathbun when he was 9 years old, and said his potential as a soccer player was always obvious.
“But the person he became — the young man – was even more impressive,” Kelly said. “He never showboated. He never bragged about all the goals he scored. His attitude drew people to him. It made people love him even more.”
As a senior at SM East in 1993, Kelly set the school’s all-time scoring record with 17 goals in a season. That record had stood nearly 20 years when Rathbun hit 16 goals with a few games left to play this year. Kelly remembers pulling Rathbun aside as it became obvious the record would fall.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to break my record, you know,'” Kelly said. “He got kind of quiet, because he’s so humble. And I had to tell him, ‘Tyler, that’s a great thing. Because you’ve worked hard and you’ve earned it.’ He always wanted to give the credit to other people.”
He ended up finishing the season with a remarkable 22 goals.
Rathbun, who lived in Westwood, attended Westwood View Elementary and Indian Hills before SM East. Kelly said he had been considering playing college soccer at UMKC.
Authorities are investigating what caused the accident that led to his death.