Lady Silverbacks sign former Cobb standout to one-day contract

Erin Holt has brain trauma and partial paralysis.

More passion than sense.

It’s what got John Latham into the business. And after he and Bobby Glustrom bought the Atlanta Silverbacks soccer team in 1998, it fueled another decision – to add a women’s team a year later. For a businessman, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“You have to have a love for this,” Latham said. “It’s certainly not the preferred business model, I can assure you that.”

On Saturday, the Lady Silverbacks played their final home game of the 2014 season in front of a crowd of fans who just managed to outnumber the players.

As the first members of the crowd filtered into the stadium that rose up on either side of her, Erin Holt kicked around on the pitch, waiting for the clock to show zeroes across the board – game time.

She had just signed a contract with the Silverbacks minutes ago and received her jersey moments later: a gleaming white shirt with her number, 25, right below four black letters – HOLT. She was still beaming.

Atlanta forward Morgan Mitchell jogged over to give Holt a hug. Mitchell and Holt had been teammates at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah for three years, Holt being one year Mitchell’s elder.

But the embrace was short – Mitchell had to go. As the forward ran into the tunnel at Silverbacks Park to prepare for the game, Holt sat in her wheelchair and returned to kicking a ball around with her mom.

As long as the ball found its way to Holt’s right foot, she could send it back. But occasionally it wandered too far and the game was paused as someone else retrieved it.

On Halloween night in 2013, Holt was hit by a pick-up truck being driven by a drunk driver. She wasn’t expected to live 48 hours.

But as she had always done on the soccer field, Holt fought.

For six weeks, she was in a coma. When she awoke, she was left with serious brain trauma and the left side of her body was paralyzed.

Saturday, the girl who grew up on a pitch returned to one for the first time since being hospitalized. She was presented with a one-day contract by her hometown team and recognized as the honorary 12th starter for the match.

As her mother held up Holt’s jersey in admiration before the game, Holt muttered a ‘Thank you.’ It was the most she’d spoken all night.

The “social butterfly” who awed Mitchell in college is now restricted to a few words here and there, all delivered only after a Herculean effort. Her brain stem was damaged in the accident, and fine motor skills, such as talking, have become major ordeals.

The standout soccer star who earned Mitchell’s admiration in college is now in a wheelchair, though she can stand with assistance.

In the Armstrong record book, however, Holt’s name stands out all by itself. She ranks seventh all time in matches played, 10th in points, ninth in goals and 10th in assists. She was also named to the 2010 Peach Belt All-Tournament Team and the Presidential Honor Roll.

But the former Walton High School standout forward who tallied 12 goals in her career at Armstrong has different goals now.

To be able to walk on her own. To be able to transfer to and from her wheelchair. To not require constant supervision.

Things are looking up. Holt has started to initiate conversation herself at times. Her speech has been improving.

Sometimes recovery from this type of injury can take a year. Sometimes five. Some don’t ever fully recover. It’s a long road ahead and the Holts need all the help they can get.

Helping hand

The Atlanta Lady Silverbacks don’t appear to be the obvious organization to help. They don’t even have enough money for themselves.

“Let’s just say it’s not self-funding,” Latham said of his club.

The semi-professional team is essentially funded as a charitable donation from its owner.

The team played only four home games this season. Yet, 50 percent of all proceeds from Saturday night’s game were donated to Holt’s family to help pay for medical bills. A collection jar gathered additional funds.

Ben Holt, Erin’s father, expressed his gratitude numerous times before halftime. He previously estimated the total cost of his family’s future medical bills at $5 million.

When Silverbacks coach Chris Adams, who had faced Holt and her Armstrong Pirates as a coach for North Georgia, pitched the fundraiser idea to Latham months ago, the owner was immediately on board.

“It was a no-brainer,” Latham said.

At the end of the game — a 2-0 loss to the Charlotte Lady Eagles that dropped the Silverbacks to 1-6-0 for the season — the players started to drift toward their bench.

Ben Holt wheeled his daughter toward them. Mitchell saw her old teammate, broke from the pack and crouched down next to her friend. Another Silverbacks player joined her.

Soon, Lady Eagles and Lady Silverbacks, some hand in hand, some with their arms slung over each other’s shoulders, formed a tight circle around Erin Holt.

They began to pray, asking for a speedy and full recovery for Holt. Bowed heads couldn’t hide the red eyes.

The circle dissipated and the players were immediately mobbed by young girls pining for autographs. Through the mayhem, Charlotte coach Lee Horton managed to find Adams and stuck out his hand. Adams returned the gesture, but was surprised when he found cash in Horton’s palm.

Horton whispered into Adams’ ear, the two embraced, and Adams made his way to a man on the sideline carrying a jar. The man held a sign asking for donations for the Holt family. Adams tucked the bill into the the jar.

“There was a bigger picture than soccer tonight,” Adams said. “We’ve had a challenging season from a competitive standpoint, but what you also realize is there’s more to life than soccer.”

More passion than sense, Latham said. That’s his model.

Sometimes you can have a whole lot of both.