Melissa Cummings-Anthony looked out at the youngsters playing in the green grass at Murfin Memorial Fields in Grove City and thought about a youngster who considered the soccer fields at Murfin as a second home -- her younger brother, Matthew.

"This is where he learned to crawl, learned to walk and learned to run," Cummings-Anthony said. "I can remember him at 4 years old, running up and down the field cheering on my brother, Mike, and my Dad (John) at their games."

Sometimes Matthew would run onto the field, she said.

"When Matthew started playing soccer himself, it was hard to keep him off the field," Cummings-Anthony said. "He grew up at Murfin Fields. We all did," she said.

Matthew, who was born Sept. 22, 1981, served as a player, coach and referee in the Grove City Kids Association soccer program at Murfin Fields.

He joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school and progressed to the rank of corporal. He died in an accident in March 2003, just before he was to begin a deployment to Iraq.

To honor Matthew's love of soccer and the Murfin fields, the Cummings family has dedicated a memorial bench in his honor.

Family and friends gathered Sept. 28 to dedicate the bench, which sits near the concession stand with an expansive view of many of the fields.

"Murfin Fields and the soccer program has meant so much to our family," John Cummings said. "We wanted to do something special not only to remember Matthew but to show our appreciation for the GCKA. It's a program that benefits so many families in the community.

"What I always liked about the game of soccer was that you didn't have to be any special size to play," he said. "You don't have to be 7 feet tall, like in basketball, or 300 pounds, like football. You can be lean and lanky, and it helps to have some smarts because soccer is like a big chess game on a field."

It was Mike, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, who kicked off the family's connection to soccer.

"He told me one day about a neighbor who was playing soccer and asked if he could play, too," John Cummings said. "He was about 7. I went out one day to practice, and I noticed the kids were having to retrieve the balls that left the field. I volunteered to go get the balls and Mike's coach said, 'Alright, now you're an assistant coach.' I said, 'What now?' but I loved being involved."

The following year, Mike's coach died in a motorcycle accident, and John took over as head coach. He said he went to a referee school to learn the rules of the game.

The entire Cummings family became involved in the GCKA soccer program, and John was involved in the planning for Murfin Fields.

John served as a coach and referee, both Mike and Matthew played, coached and refereed and their mother, Susan, also coached.

Susan Cummings died in 2016.

"It was hard on her," Cummings-Anthony said. "She was in hospice for a time, and she struggled between wanting to join Matthew and wanting to stay here with the rest of her family."

Cummings-Anthony is about 18 months older than Mike and was 10 years older than Matthew.

"I played a little, but I wasn't as athletic as my brothers," she said. "I kept stats and helped my Dad when he was coaching."

"We all spent so much time out at Murfin," Cummings-Anthony said. "We'd be here most evenings at practice or helping take care of the fields, putting down the lines and hanging the nets."

Matthew began volunteering as a referee at age 9.

"He must have been the youngster referee in GCKA history," Cummings-Anthony said. "He had to stop until he was older because some of the other parents weren't happy with someone so young serving as a referee."

Both brothers continued to play and referee soccer until they became students at Grove City High School, she said.

Mike and John Cummings continued to referee for years, with John finally ending his association with the soccer program in 2002 after 24 years.

"It was a wonderful thing we could share as a family," John said. "It brought us a lifetime of memories."

Matthew loved his family, Cummings-Anthony said.

"He was stationed at Parris Island (in South Carolina), and he'd drive home on a Friday and go back on Sunday just to spend a little time with his family," she said.

At the time of his death, Matthew was married to his high school sweetheart, Shannon, and had a young son, also named Matthew.

The family decided to purchase and install the memorial bench in Matthew's honor as a way to mark the 15th anniversary of his death, Cummings-Anthony said.

"We cherish all the family memories we have made at Murfin Fields," she said. "We hope this bench is a place where people can come and sit and soak in the experience of being here with their families and make their own memories."

"This bench is such a wonderful gesture by the family," GCKA president Brian Bowyer said. "It's a beautiful bench. They wanted it set up here by the concession stand where people could sit under the shade of the roof and watch their children play.

"It's a statement about how their son did his growing up here and a gift from a family that has been such a huge part of the GCKA."

Although the bench had only been installed for a few days before the dedication, "people have already been making a lot of use out of it," Bowyer said.

Another family has been inspired by the Cummings' gift, he said.

"They have a deceased family member who was a long-time football coach, and they've asked about possibly placing their own bench in his honor," Bowyer said. "This could be the start of a new tradition here at Murfin Fields."

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