Denise Koegel was the Mepham girls’ soccer squad’s No. 1 fan and loudest cheerer, but on Sept. 10, the team lost that presence in the stands.
Koegel’s daughter, Keri Wisey, the Pirates’ assistant coach, said that her mother came alive at the games she attended unfailingly. Koegel was diagnosed with cancer in August, and her health rapidly deteriorated until she died in September, at age 64.
Wisey refused to define her mother by her final days. “Her time falling ill — that wasn’t her life,” Wisey said. “Even at the end, she had lived a full life, and the greatest life possible.”
Koegel attended every Pirates game, Wisey said — including away games and playoff games, rain or shine. The Merrick family lives close to the school, and Koegel biked to every home game.
The theme of the Pirates’ Sept. 27 game — the first since Koegel’s passing — was #DKStrong. Shirts and wristbands adorned with the hashtag were sold at the game to benefit the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund, which supports active and veteran service members. Koegel was an active supporter of the fund. The game also began with a moment of silence.
Mottos were printed on the merchandise as well — “Energy, enthusiasm and heart.”
“That sums up her life,” said player Lindsey Repper.
“She was our No. 1 fan, no matter what,” added teammate Devon Shroeder. “Even as freshmen, when we didn’t always win, she always supported us.”
“You could always hear her screaming from the side,” Maddie Pascarella said.
Wisey followed her mother’s footsteps by becoming a teacher — she teaches math at Mepham, and Koegel taught math at Syosset High School for more than 30 years. Wisey’s sister, Maureen, touched on her mother’s commitment to teaching in her eulogy at Koegel’s funeral.
“I remember feeling like a celebrity when I met former students of hers,” Maureen wrote. “Students loved her classroom, and she knew what an important factor that was to driving a love for learning in her students.”
“She brought all of that energy to the field,” said Coach Janine Bizelia. “She was just a really cool person and would even come out to summer league games. She could always be heard screaming from the stands.”
Koegel was also a “huge Notre Dame football and athletics fan,” Wisey said. She and her brother, Chris, attended the university. “She fell in love with the school and sports program, and never missed watching a game.”
By all accounts, Koegel was also an affable person, ready to befriend anyone she came across. She treated everyone as her equal, according to Wisey.
“It felt like you knew her right away,” her daughter said. “She would sit and listen and talk to you, just getting to know everyone.”
Koegel is also survived by her husband, Kevin; her brother, Jim; and grandchildren Rebecca, Claire and Grace.
“Her life was full of faith, spirit, discipline and caring, and not a moment was wasted,” Maureen wrote in the eulogy. “Denise expects all of us to make sure she lives on through each of us, and if we can fulfill that in any way, what a greater world it would be.”
The Pirates pulled out a triumphant victory against Kennedy High School in Koegel’s honor — the match ended with a 4-1 score and emotional embraces among teammates.