California Border Collies Play Soccer, Help Guardian Feel Closer to Deceased Son

Thanks to Annie for barking in this excellent article from the OCRegister.com. Soccer links father, son, border collies By ANNIE BURRIS THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER...

Joy  |  Jan 11th 2008


mszbeckandvictoriaengstrom.jpg

Thanks to Annie for barking in this excellent article from the OCRegister.com.

Soccer links father, son, border collies
By ANNIE BURRIS
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

HUNTINGTON BEACH Terror grips Mark Lukas as he stands on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

He looks out into the cold, foggy water.

He is looking for his son.

Mark had sensed something was wrong hours earlier when his son was late to a dinner party at the family’s home in Brooksville, Fla. Zak Lukas, 16, was the class clown, the rebellious athlete and everyone’s best friend. Mark hoped his son had blown off the party.

Zak, a soccer star, had gone jet skiing with teammate Jason Lewis in the gulf, 20 minutes away from their home.

Mark had sped to the usual places the boys went to ski.

On his fourth stop, he found Zak’s truck.

Then he saw his son’s ski trailer.

Then he called 911.

Standing on the Gulf’s edge, Mark feels powerless as the coast guard arrives. They refuse to fly over the water to search for the boys because of the winter fog. They decide to send a boat out in the morning.

It is Dec. 7, 2002. The coast guards tell him there is nothing more they can do.

The next morning, a fisherman finds the boys nine miles away from shore.

Mark’s son and his teammate had died of hypothermia.

A cord had been sucked into the jet ski rendering it useless a death sentence in the freezing Florida waters.

Mark cannot cope with the nightmare unfolding in front of him.

“It was a shock,” he said “It motivated me to change.”

Six months later he left his 20-year marriage and quit the cleaning business he had owned for 19 years. He lost touch with is adult daughter.

Now, five years later, he’s moved to Huntington Beach to seek a new life.

And he’s found it in what may sound like the strangest place, the strangest relationship.

He found it in his dogs.

Mark Lukas, now 50, found comfort in four Border Collies, who became his new passion. Those dogs helped him deal with his son’s death.

The link between the dogs, the son and Mark?

Soccer.

Zak began playing soccer when he was 5-years-old. He was a goalie.

But by the time he was 12, he was handling the ball well enough to play striker a skilled offensive position at the highest level of soccer for the 13-year-old age bracket. His team played in an international tournament and beat a Russian team that hadn’t lost in four years. Mark remembers the Russian team crying when the game was over.

Zak made the varsity soccer team his freshman year at Brookville’s Hernando High.

By Zak’s junior year, Mark said his son was something of an athletic legend.

There was just one problem.

He never practiced on his own.

He felt he shouldn’t be bothered with extra dribbling and drills apart from the team. Mark called Zak’s apathy a soccer sin.

When Mark and Zak attended a professional soccer game in Tampa Bay, Fla., Mark thought he found a cure.

During half-time, a Border Collie dribbled the ball from the corner of the field to the center in what seemed like two seconds.

If Mark could teach a dog to play soccer, maybe Zak would practice with the pup.

Zak died before the idea came to fruition, but the dream still burned in Mark’s mind.

After Zak’s death, Mark bought a fourplex apartment building. He lived alone and spent his days retiling his building.

He bought a Border Collie and named her “Ms. Z.”

Z was for Zak.

With the dream of raising a soccer star, Mark started to coach the collie.

He would throw the ball and refuse to praise the year-old puppy until she brought it back.

Dog soccer is vastly more complicated than picking up a yellow tennis ball and carrying it back to the master.

Ms. Z needed to use her snout and paws to dribble the ball.

Mark also taught Ms. Z to catch.

Mark would throw the ball in the air and she learned to trap it with her teeth and two front paws.

It’s like watching the real-life, Border Collie, soccer version of Air Bud.

Ms. Z learned to shoot with her shoulder.

In October of 2006, Mark expanded his soccer team, buying twin Border Collies. He named them “Sweeper” and “Keeper.”

These two puppies seemed to hate the tactics Ms. Z learned and took to more defensive soccer positions that matched their names.

Sweeper usually the last defensive player before the soccer ball reaches the goalie became the acrobat of the team with her 5-foot vertical jump.

Keeper the goalie has a target-like circle on her nose, Mark said.

Beck, named after the soccer icon David Beckham, was added to the team a year after the twins and learned to play offense with Ms. Z.

Together the collies learned how to outrun and outshoot any human soccer athlete, Mark said.

Soccer Collies had become Mark’s life and his business.

The unconventional dog team became the Soccer Collies a business that was featured at a Radio Disney convention in Florida that attracted 15,000 people and has become a favorite at birthday parties. His ultimate goal: taking the soccer phenomena to the summer Olympics in China to play as a half-time show at a soccer match.

On Monday, the dogs suited-up to play soccer for the first time since their move to California. They went to a Huntington Beach park to perform for Orange County Register cameras.

From the moment they are let onto the field, the dogs, in red and blue uniforms, zero-in on the ball like an atomic missile programmed on a target.

Follow this link to read the rest of the article and watch the video.