Soccer game honors man who died in blast

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Nick Green, right, brother of Zach Green, who was killed in the Williams Olefins plant explosion in Geismar on Thursday, guards the goal during a memorial soccer game for his brother on Saturday at Ponchatoula High School in Ponchatoula.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Nick Green, right, brother of Zach Green, who was killed in the Williams Olefins plant explosion in Geismar on Thursday, guards the goal during a memorial soccer game for his brother on Saturday at Ponchatoula High School in Ponchatoula.

The score of Saturday’s soccer game at Ponchatoula High School was irrelevant. It was the purpose of the game that mattered.

On a beautiful morning at his alma mater, dozens of friends and relatives of Zachary C. “Zach” Green gathered at the school’s stadium to play in his honor a game Green loved nearly from birth.

The sunny day, though, was still overshadowed by Green’s death.

Green, 29, was one of two people killed after an explosion early Thursday at the Williams Olefins chemical plant in Geismar.

Dozens of others were injured, State Police have said.

But for a few hours Saturday, friends and family could just play soccer and get lost in the moment, honoring a loved one who passed away too soon.

The game also served as a fundraiser to help pay for college tuition for Green’s young daughter, Isabelle.

“I’m very thankful that everybody showed up,” said Nick Green, Zach Green’s brother. “It’s definitely been a blessing. It shows my family and his wife just how many people loved him.”

Though much of the focus Saturday was on remembering Zach Green, his sister Holli Green Digby said the family’s main concern is caring for Green’s daughter and wife, Emily, which was one of the biggest reasons to organize the fundraising game.

“Twenty-nine is way too young to leave a widow,” Digby said. “We want to make sure that they are surrounded by love right now, and that’s clearly what’s happening today.”

Zach Green had been working at Williams Olefins for about eight months as a process technician, his brother said.

Zach and Nick Green both graduated from Ponchatoula High School — Zach in 2002, Nick in 2005 — and played organized soccer for many years.

Zach Green earned a scholarship to play the game at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., his brother said. But his career was cut short by an ankle injury, and he transferred to LSU after a few semesters.

But his love of soccer never faded. He continued to play the sport in his free time when he could.

“Next to his daughter, it was his passion,” Nick Green said.

Green said he and Erin Lyon, a Ponchatoula High teammate of Zach’s, began on Thursday discussing the idea of organizing the fundraising game.

They made a few phone calls, put up a few Facebook posts and before they knew it, everything blossomed into a full-fledged affair complete with a feast of hot dogs and hamburgers grilled by friends.

Mary Beth Crovetto, an assistant principal at Ponchatoula High, said one of Green’s classmates contacted her shortly after his death about the game.

After a few quick calls to the principal and football coach, the arrangement was made.

“I’m so proud they thought of coming here,” Crovetto said.

Crovetto said Zach Green was a “teacher’s dream” because he was so engaged in learning in the classroom. She said he was a “definite leader and full of life” — similar to the rest of his family.

“The Greens represent Ponchatoula,” she said.

Zach Green could make a lasting impact on any person within a few minutes of meeting them, Nick Green said.

“As soon as he knew you and got to know who you were, he was always just a light in the room that never went away,” his brother said.

The scene was serene before the game started. People greeted each other and laughed as they shared stories, all the while gently ribbing each other about their soccer skills.

But interspersed in the times of joy were moments of sadness and grieving, from those who just needed a shoulder to cry on.

The players, many of whom played organized soccer with Zach and Nick Green in the past, gathered in a large circle at the middle of the field to pray before the game.

Nick Green and Digby then thanked their friends and family for organizing the game and playing in their brother’s honor.

“It really means a lot to my family,” Green said, choking up. “Let’s just celebrate today the best way we can.”

Many of the players, as well as spectators, wore freshly printed T-shirts with Zach’s picture and name on them. On the back read a quote commonly spoken by Zach — “Let me get it!”

Though many of the players probably hadn’t consistently played organized soccer in years, they still dashed about with a level of energy that would’ve made Zach Green proud.

There were headers, diving saves and sliding kicks. Nobody took it easy.

In the end, they did keep score — Nick’s team lost, 8-6.

But as the game came to a close and the competitors embraced each other one last time, all that mattered was the man they were playing for.

“We showed our age, but it was great just to honor him,” said Lyon, one of the organizers.