Mike and Bonnie Martin sat in the bleachers at Central Cabarrus High School's stadium, waiting for their son Michael's soccer game with Concord Jay M. Robinson to begin.
The Martins were early, and a helicopter passing above caught Mike's attention but didn't make a lasting impression.
It was Sept. 15, 2006, and the Martins learned later that evening that the helicopter was reporting to the scene of an automobile accident that had claimed Michael's life and that of a Central Cabarrus teammate, Andy Janda. They were both juniors.
The Martins returned to the stadium that night after learning of their son's fate. Nowadays, to keep Michael's spirit alive with the Vikings' soccer team, they return to the stadium time and again as avid supporters of the school and its boys and girls soccer teams.
Since the accident, Mike has found a permanent place on the teams' sideline, mostly as an assistant coach. Bonnie volunteers as the scoreboard operator. Together, they have raised thousands of dollars in college scholarship money, which they present annually to graduating Central Cabarrus soccer players in their son's memory.
Their greatest ambition, though, is to reach as many teenagers and parents as possible to warn them against the dangers of reckless driving.
Michael was just a few games into his first varsity season when he attended a pre-game meal at a teammate's house in Harrisburg. He was riding back to Central Cabarrus in a car driven by a teammate when it veered off Rocky River Road and struck a tree just a few miles from the school.
"You could see it on his face," said Bonnie. "He just had Viking pride. When they were playing Robinson, they really got psyched up for that game."
School administration and the coaching staff granted Mike's wish to be on the sideline, "representing Michael," as Mike says, for the rest of Central's games that season. Bonnie found a home in the press box.
Mike often had coached his son's youth teams through the Bethel Athletic Association and American Youth Soccer Organization in the University City area. Mike's presence on the Central Cabarrus sideline during games, wearing Michael's No. 6 green jersey, morphed into a role as a Vikings assistant coach.
Michael's jersey, and Andy Janda's jersey No. 16, have been retired. The soccer team memorializes them with chairs placed in front of their empty lockers inside its fieldhouse locker room.
Outside the fieldhouse, the 2006 Vikings team planted a memorial garden in the players' honor. Surrounded by azalea bushes and separated by a 25-foot maple tree, Martin's and Janda's uniform numbers are planted in gold chrysanthemums outlined with white gravel.
On Sept. 15 this year, the sixth anniversary of the accident, before the Vikings' game with Kannapolis A.L. Brown, the team presented a metal sign to the Martins that will be hung on the fieldhouse wall overlooking the garden.
Since 2006, the Martins have raised more than $5,000 for college scholarships awarded to members of the boys and girls soccer teams who exemplify Michael's "heart, effort and pride in the game," said Bonnie.
The Martins believed there should have been a harsher penalty for the driver of the car than only surrendering his license for two years. Since then, they have lobbied state lawmakers to increase the penalty for misdemeanor death by vehicle.
In 2009, Gov. Bev Perdue signed Bill 889 into law. It allows a judge to add jail time to a conviction of misdemeanor death by vehicle and increase the amount of the fine. The Martins have been invited to a couple of state conventions of Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Mike gave a speech at last year's event.
The Martins maintain a website, Michaelsmoon.com, that contains information about Michael's life, safe driving and soccer.
If Michael were alive today, Mike Martin said, he probably would be coaching a youth soccer team.