A dedication ceremony opened the JK Memorial Field in Washington Township under sunny skies and windy conditions with about 150 people in attendance, properly social distanced and wearing masks.

Located near Washington Elementary School across from Washington Township Victoria Fields on Niantic Road, the field is named in memory of New Hanover Elementary student Jacob “JK” Karnchanaphati, 12, of Gilbertsville, who passed away in the summer of 2015. He was an active member of the Boyertown Soccer Club.

Boyertown Soccer Club President Martin Gibbins opened the Sept. 19 ceremony with touching remarks about the Karnchanaphati family.

“We made it; this is now going to be open today,” said Gibbins, receiving applause from the crowd. “Great things happen with the gathering of great minds; dedicated, very passionate and hardworking people working for a common goal.”

This is a dream that Michelle and Chris and their family … that many community members made a reality, said Gibbins, thanking the multitude of individuals who made the field a possibility, especially Mike Royce of CYMA Builders and past Boyertown Soccer Club Vice President Sean Brennan.

“Today is really a day of celebration,” said Gibbins.

One of Jacob’s past teammates, Boyertown Area Senior High senior John Black, also spoke of Jacob’s personality and friendship, as did Jacob’s former coach, Mark Kratz.

“I went to preschool with Jacob and we were friends for as long as I can remember and we played soccer together for multiple years,” said Black. “Jacob was a great soccer player but more importantly he was a great friend to all of his friends and teammates. He brought us so many great memories and fun times.”

Some of his favorite memories of Jacob came from the soccer field.

“I’m looking forward to the day when this soccer field will provide the future generation of soccer players with all their great memories and a strong bond that me and my friends have of Jacob,” said Black.

“Michelle Karnchanaphati (Jacob’s mother) then gave some very emotional words thanking the supporters and sharing some background on Jacob and the concession stand’s inspiration,” said former Boyertown Soccer Club President Dirk Boughter.

“The wind could be blamed for the tears in my eyes, but that would not be the truth.”

East Greenville Mayor Keith Gerhart sang “God Bless America” and the National Anthem prior to kick-off. Then, the JK Memorial Game began with 20 plus past and present Boyertown soccer players, boys and girls who had a fun time playing 60 minutes of competitive, but good-natured soccer, said Boughter.

Mark Kratz and Ernie Willson played co-goalkeeper for one side, and the game ended fittingly in a 5-5 draw, he said.

During the JK game and in the three travel and intramural games that followed, the concession stand was hopping, featuring treats from Jake’s Shakes which was inspired by a personal memory from the Karnchanaphati family.

“The event was a complete success and showed the determination of Michelle and Chris, as well as of a community who came together to give their family a legacy of fun in their son’s name,” said Boughter. “I’ve been involved in few, if any, events or projects that have left me more fulfilled.”

Honoring Jacob’s Memory

“The project has been in the works for five years now. Our family is very excited that this beautiful field is finally ready to be shared with the community. We love knowing that many soccer families will be able to enjoy the field and make lasting memories and friendships on it,” said Jacob’s mother, Michelle Karnchanaphati of the Jacob Karnchanaphati Memorial Trust. “With the help of Washington Township Board of Supervisors and Boyertown Soccer Club, we have found another way to give back to the community.”

Karnchanaphati explained that Jacob started playing soccer in Pottsgrove when he was 3. After several years playing recreational, he tried out for Boyertown Travel when he was 10 in 2013 and made the U11 team.

“That was the year that we saw him fall in love with soccer. He dreamed of being a professional soccer player one day. His room was (and still is) covered in posters of his soccer idols,” she said.

The concession stand is also another special way for them to honor Jacob.

“When our oldest son Josh had his tonsils out several years ago, Jacob made a little menu for Josh’s recovery. We named the menu ‘Jake's Shakes and More.’ Jacob loved helping make the milkshakes for his big brother Josh, and he knew my love of cooking; so he had a plan,” said Karnchanaphati. “One day our family would open a cafe, and he would make the shakes for the kids who came in.”

Many times, while driving in Boyertown, they would see different buildings for sale, and Jacob would comment, “Mom, I found a place for Jake's Shakes.”

“This is why Jake’s Shakes, along with the field, is also honoring his memory,” said Karnchanaphati. “The concession stand is starting off simple, but we are definitely offering shakes! We are honoring a promise to Jacob that we have kept for many years. It is so meaningful that Josh will be making shakes for a few hours each day on opening weekend in Jacob’s memory!”

History of the Project

“In the wake of all of the negative news lately and low points that our country and community may feel, I think that the opening of this field serves as a reminder that good people can make our days a little better,” said Boughter. “Chris and Michelle are such good people and turned their family tragedy into a positive for the greater Boyertown community. Kids will be happy for years playing on the field bearing Jacob’s name. I was happy to serve a small part in helping Chris and Michelle to give their son’s spirit a final resting place.”

Boughter served as president for Boyertown Soccer Club from early 2016 through the end of 2018. While no longer affiliated directly with the soccer club, he remains an active supporter.

“This field project had been discussed amongst board members as early as 2014 and after JK’s tragic passing in 2015, our then-president, Steve Riviello, pitched the idea of making the field a memorial field in JK’s honor. When I was appointed president in 2016, one of my primary goals was to move the project forward in the direction that Chris and Michelle wanted to see,” explained Boughter.

The location was a vacant field owned by Washington Township that was only ever used for parking at the soccer club’s annual soccer tournament in November, said Boughter.

“In coordination with the township officials, and numerous athletic field construction experts, we were able to get the most out of the space available,” he said.

Using capital improvement funds from the soccer club, as well as fundraisers and generous donations from local families and businesses, they were able to construct a playing surface with a concession stand, bleachers, scoreboard and protective fence.

“We went through several iterations of what the field would look like, with the help of several revised architectural drawings, engineering plans, late-night meetings, and email and text exchanges,” said Boughter.

Boyertown Soccer Club Board Vice President Sean Brennan worked closely with Mike Royce of CYMA Builders to lead the project and make sure that it would result in an aesthetically pleasing field with optimal functionality. Chuck and Jen Gulati were also important in helping raise funds and facilitate moving the project forward, with a groundbreaking in August 2018, he said.

“No parent ever wants to experience what Chris and Michelle went through, and continue to go through, after losing Jacob,” said Boughter. “Speaking with them about Jacob and the terrific times they had with him and his older brother Josh is joyous and heartbreaking at the same time.”

“Jacob loved soccer like hundreds of other boys and girls at Boyertown Soccer Club and to be a part of creating this memorial project so that they could continue to enjoy the beautiful game like Jacob did is something that really fills my heart up,” continued Boughter. “My hope is that this project will put a smile on the faces of people from our community and give Chris and Michelle (and Mr. Boyer) a place to reflect on JK’s life and just remember the good times.”

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