Messenger file photo
‘You can stop his heart but you can’t stop his spirit.’
ST. ALBANS — No one could have seen it coming when Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans graduate and athletic standout Connor Roberts was found hunched over in his family’s home suffering a severe heart attack just days after his 21st birthday.
The 2012 BFA graduate, a St. Albans resident, passed away Tuesday, June 17, at Northwestern Medical Center. Scar tissue was found on his oversized heart, suggesting he had suffered similar attacks before. He is survived by his parents Jeff and Peggy and siblings Benjamin Roberts, Danielle Roberts and Courtney Leduc.
Hundreds of friends and teammates from all over the country were in attendance for Roberts’ calling hours Sunday and funeral the following day at Holy Angels Church in St. Albans.
To the coaches and friends who knew him best – both at BFA, where he excelled in football, hockey and lacrosse — and at Norwich University where he continued with two of those sports, it wasn’t just his athletic ability they wanted to talk about. It was his smile, his worth ethic and his appreciation for life.
“You can stop his heart but you can’t stop his spirit,” BFA athletic director Dan Marlow said. “Everybody has a responsibility now to pass on his smile, his energy, his ability to talk to anybody. If you do that his spirit will last forever.”
Roberts was a member of the 2012 Division I state champion Bobwhites hockey team his senior year, and attended most games and practices despite a broken collarbone that kept him off the ice most of the season. He led the Bobwhites to two state championship games in football, and was a captain of the football and lacrosse teams, the two sports he continued at Norwich while studying Engineering Management.
He was joined at Norwich by BFA football and hockey teammate Mike Schreiner, who transferred to St. Michael’s College his sophomore year. Schreiner, who had played hockey with Roberts since the age of seven and was a pallbearer at the funeral, said he felt connected to Roberts’ energy from the beginning.
“He was the type of kid, you didn’t even have to know him, he just brought so much energy into the room,” Schreiner said. “He came to every (hockey) practice, every game, every team dinner, which was a huge lift. He had so much determination.”
Schreiner said Roberts was meeting the demands of playing two sports while balancing rigorous studies at Norwich, where he was entering his junior year.
“When I walked up to the funeral home and saw the line so far out the door — faces, kids I haven’t seen in years — it hit me like a brick wall. He had an impact on anybody he ran into,” Schreiner said.
Norwich lacrosse coach Neal Anderson said Roberts was just coming into his own and playing more as a sophomore, and was expected to take on a leadership role his junior year. On a campus made up of military and civilian students, Roberts meshed with everybody.
“He had friends all over campus. It’s tragic, Anderson said. “His best lacrosse was in front of him and it’s unfortunate we don’t get the opportunity to see that. He was always smiling, but that smile was biggest after a win.”
Anderson said about 50 Norwich football and lacrosse players were in attendance Monday, as well as numerous Norwich friends.
BFA hockey coach Toby Ducolon, who knew Roberts for many years through the sport, said that the star right winger made 2012 a special season. Not just because the team won a state championship, but because of how well the players treated one another under Roberts’ leadership. Despite his skill on the ice, enjoying life was always Roberts’ priority, Ducolon said.
“I would never have put a heart problem together with Connor Roberts,” Ducolon said. “He was a physical specimen. He was a great character kid, all about the team. He was always supporting his friends, always laughing, always scheming.”
Roberts’ senior year, Ducolon approached him about potentially taking his hockey career further after high school. But, Ducolon said, “he just wanted to have a good time. And that worked for him. That’s why he had so many friends. He got the big picture earlier than other kids did.”
Geoff Murray, who coaches the BFA football team, said the off-switch on Roberts’ smile and easy-going nature was flipped on game nights. The Bobwhite running back would seek out contact, running through players instead of toward the sideline. “His level of intensity in play truly represented the community, the high school and the football program from top to bottom,” Murray said.
“He not only influenced his classmates, but kids older and younger, by doing things the right way,” Murray said. “By doing things the right way, it built a culture, a standard for other players to strive for. That’s how you build a winning culture.”
No one can prepare for losing someone so young, Marlow said. It evoked the same hurt and disappointment experienced when the community lost long-time BFA girls basketball coach Jim Bashaw in 2000, and Kyndle Mongeon, a BFA graduate and college junior stabbed near Colgate University in 1993.
“His smile and his persona exuded a sense of loyalty and warmth,” Marlow said. “He was easy to warm up to, too. The outpouring of support is an indication of how those qualities impacted everybody. We have to do our best to keep that spirit alive.”