Earthquake Kills Beloved Haitian Soccer Coach

By John Ceravino

“The house just isn’t up to code,” Vlad Jean said to his aunt as he nervously paced the room. His words fell to the ground, unheard, all attention devoted to the phone.

He was with his aunt Marie Labaze and other relatives anxiously awaiting a phone call to either confirm their biggest fears or relieve their concerns. Just hours earlier, Jean, a senior at Mercy College, was at work when he first heard the news of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti. With no way to contact his mother, he and his family came together and prayed for the safety of the relatives on the island.

“I started to get concerned when I saw the news and realized how serious it was,” said Jean. “But with me, my aunt, and sister all together, we had a lot of hope in that room.”

It wasn’t until 2 a.m. that he finally heard from his mother, who lives in Lazile, just a few miles from Port-au-Prince. She was fine and the house only suffered minor damage. There was no word though on his uncle, who was also Labaze’s husband, Jean Yves Labaze. In the coming days after the quake, the family was able to get in contact with people in the area to search for him.

They found his body near the three-story building that served as headquarters for the Haitian Football Federation. The building that collapsed was an unfinished, three-story antique house. Labaze had lobbied for the training facility to be located in Port-au-Prince.

“Haiti has political and social problems,” Labaze said in an interview in 2007 for FIFA. “Football can act as an ambassador, giving a different image of the country.”

It was that passion for soccer and the Haitian people that led to Labaze’s becoming the Haiti U-17 Head Coach and eventually bringing them to the World Cup Finals in 2007 in Korea. The people of Haiti rejoiced over their first World Cup appearance at any age level since 1974.

“Seeing the Haitian flag alongside the Nigerian, French and Japanese today fills me with pride,” Labaze said during the World Cup run. “I wouldn’t have wanted to be a political ambassador. To be honest, I don’t even know how to spell political! But in spite of everything, I became an ambassador for my nation.”

He brought a great sense of pride to a country downtrodden by poverty and riddled with political corruption and greed. It was in this nation’s capitol of Port-au-Prince that Labaze died doing the work he loved so much. He was meeting along with some 30 other officials for the executive committee meeting. The only person to survive the collapse of the building was the Federations President, Dr. Yves Jean Bart.

Caribbean Football Union VP Horace Burrell recently stated in a report to FIFA VP Jack Warner that he had taken a trip to Haiti and greeted by a visibly injured Dr. Baker. He described what he saw on his ride in.

“As we traveled down what now remains of the major highway, the buildings are but crumbled shells of their previous incarnations. Not even a hint of their previous grander can be seen.”

He took the trip to survey the island and view what remained of the federation’s headquarters. “Once a three-story magnificent structure, all that remains is a concrete slab. The stench of death is everywhere on this island.” He went on to describe the visibly mangled bodies he saw in the rubble. “All that it would take is proper equipment to allow the families the courtesy of a proper burial. But many on this island have been robbed of that.”

While the football federation is left in tatters with the loss of its most experienced coach and other members, what is of greater concern is the health of Haiti and its people.

“It is so painful; he was a hero to the people of Haiti,” said his wife. “He was such a great man who loved his country and the game of football. He truly believed that the nation could rally around the sport.”

His family will always remember him, as will the people of Haiti.

“He always inspired me, he was such a selfless man, and he taught me a lot of valuable lessons,” said Vlad Jean, “I just hope that the people of Haiti will realize his dream to unite and overcome their differences despite this major disaster.”

He went on to say that Labaze was a reader and a writer as well. A week before the quake, he wrote “Philosopher fait reflaichir, vivre sans philosopher fait avoir les yeux ferme sans tacher jamais de les ouvrir,” which translates to: Philosophy makes a person think, life without philosophy will make your eyes close and you won’t be able to open them.