Lincoln-Way community mourns teen’s unexplained death
By SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY and PAT DISABATO Staff reporters April 2, 2012 11:08AM
Updated: May 4, 2012 8:07AM
With a strum of his guitar, he could bring people together.
He made his little sisters laugh, often called his grandfather in Minnesota to talk sports, and if a student he had taken under his wing was on the phone past the midnight hour, so be it.
For an 18-year-old, Tom Schuman could cover a lot of bases, even when he wasn’t being a star baseball player at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox. That made his unexplained sudden death Saturday all the more shocking to the many whose lives he touched.
“My son keeps asking, ‘Why?’ ” said Neil Krull, a former youth baseball coach whose son Jack was a Lincoln-Way Central teammate of Schuman. “You’re not supposed to die when you’re 18. We can’t put an answer to it.”
So far, no one can. Not feeling well, Schuman left school early Friday. When his younger brother Joey tried to wake him up for baseball Saturday morning, Schuman did not respond, his aunt Lori McDevitt said Monday.
An autopsy was inconclusive, and the cause of death is pending further studies, the Will County coroner’s office said Monday.
Schuman, a son of Dan and Lynn Schuman, of New Lenox, was a senior at Lincoln-Way Central and also starred at golf.
Family members on Monday recalled his great sense of humor, love of sports and ability to bring people together, McDevitt said.
Schuman’s younger sisters, Hanna and Emma, relayed through McDevitt that their big brother always made them laugh.
“When he was little, we could get him to laugh so easily, he would wet his pants,” his aunt said. “He had a sarcastic sense of humor and was really good at pulling people together. He would start strumming his guitar and people would gather.”
Schuman also had a great group of friends, she said. Over the weekend, many stopped by the family home to offer condolences.
“A lot of good people are helping us get through this,” McDevitt said.
The night before he died, he called his grandfather, Wes Vogt, in Minnesota to talk sports, as they frequently did, McDevitt said. His grandfather knew Schuman had become quite an athlete, and they were looking forward to him attending the University of Minnesota later this year.
“Grandpa realized he could not beat him on the golf course any more,” said McDevitt, also of Minnesota.
McDevitt said after Schuman came home from school Friday, he took a nap, talked to his grandfather and went to a movie. As of 12:30 a.m. Saturday, he was speaking on the phone to an adaptive physical education student he had taken under his wing, she said.
No one is certain what happened next.
“I am so sorry to see him go,” said Neil Krull, a family friend who also had coached Schuman in baseball from about age 8 through eighth grade while his son Jack and Schuman became close friends.
“We loved Tommy,” Krull said. “We’re going to miss him like crazy.”
He described Schuman as a “most gentlemanly, respectful kid,” who was “very coachable” and an “excellent player.”
Schuman always pitched the big games, Krull said, because he understood pressure.
“That’s why he was such a good golfer, too,” he said.
The Schuman family will lean on their strong faith, he said.
“Our community is tight. We will pull together and get through this,” Krull said.
Schuman won the last high school game he pitched on Thursday.
“He went out a champion,” Krull said.
After pitching in 14 games as a junior, Schuman was tabbed the Knights’ closer this season.
“He had the respect of every kid on the team,” Lincoln-Way Central baseball coach Sean Bieterman said. “He was a leader and understood what was right and wrong. He was the perfect combination of student, athlete and toughness.”
“We’re devastated,” Lincoln-Way Central athletic director Hud Venerable said. “Tom was a tremendous young man. He was a top student and a top athlete. He was well respected by everybody.”
Lincoln-Way Central canceled its doubleheader at Immaculate Conception on Saturday and today’s home game against Stagg. The Knights are scheduled to resume their season Thursday at Andrew.
Schuman was a top golfer for the Knights, too, finishing second in the SouthWest Suburban Conference meet in October and third in the Class 3A Minooka Regional.
Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 Supt. Lawrence Wyllie extended his “heartfelt sympathies” to the Schuman family.
“He was a hardworking student, wonderful young man, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” Wyllie said in a prepared statement.
Some students took advantage of counseling services offered by the high school Monday, district spokeswoman Stacy Holland said. The mood at the school was “somber and quiet,” she said, and some students wore blue, even at neighboring Lincoln-Way East, to honor Schuman.
The teen is survived by his parents, brother Joey, and sisters Hanna and Emma. He was preceded in death by an older brother, Bryan.
Visitation is from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Peace Community Church, 21300 S. LaGrange Road in Frankfort. The funeral is Wednesday at 11 a.m.