By MADDY VITALE
She was a coach, teacher, mother, wife, sister, and daughter. Her no-nonsense approach to all things helped her and others around her achieve the best on and off the field, in the classroom and throughout life.
Mikenzie Helphenstine, affectionately known as “Coach H,” made sure she did all she could, until she couldn’t anymore. Her love and zest for life and family, dedication to her players and her students, resonated with the Ocean City community.
Hundreds came out Thursday morning to St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Ocean City to pay their respects and to celebrate the life and memories of a strong woman who touched so many.
She coached field hockey and lacrosse for Ocean City High School and field hockey in the Intermediate School.
Helphenstine was just 43 when she passed away on May 4 after a courageous battle against breast cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2011. In October of 2016, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
The cancer had spread to her liver and back bone, but she still continued to coach from the sideline, teach special education at the Primary School and be there for those around her, no matter what.
Even when she knew her time was drawing close, she selected the music and other arrangements for her service. The song she chose, performed by Junior Miss Ocean City Makenna Fleming, was, ‘Till You Can’t”
Her message to those who sat in the St. Peter’s sanctuary, there to remember her, was to not stop doing all you could do for as long as you could. Part of the lyrics in the song told a bit of how Helphenstine lived her life:
If you got a chance, take it, take it while you got a chance
If you got a dream, chase it, ’cause a dream won’t chase you back
If you’re gonna love somebody
Hold ’em as long and as strong and as close as you can
‘Til you can’t
Rev. Dr. Larry Oksten knew Helphenstine. She had come to him on some occasions to speak of her love of her children, Andi and Kyle.
“Mikenzie has been preparing for this moment for a long time and now each and every one of you has a task, to love as Mikenzie loved, to care as Mikenzie cared, to teach, not lacrosse, not field hockey, sure they are important, but life,” Rev. Oksten said.
Tenacity, ferocity, those were words the pastor used to describe Helphenstine’s strength, of how she lived.
“Mikenzie was an angel for a community. Celebrate that now,” Rev. Oksten said.
Helphenstine was an Ocean City High School graduate who was born and raised in the resort. She was surrounded by her family when she died.
On Thursday, many who loved her, whose lives she touched in many ways, stood and sat in the church sanctuary. The overflowing line of mourners stretched down the block.
At one point, people were not allowed in when the sanctuary was filled to capacity.
Inside, a photo collage was displayed on a large screen. Photos showed Helphenstine from her youth up until her last years, always surrounded by family.
There were images of her as a young mother, on the field for Ocean City High School’s lacrosse and field hockey teams.
There were photos of her later, during her cancer struggles, on the beach with family.
She was shown hugging her children, Kyle and Andi, and husband, Clint Helphenstine, and other family members in the heartfelt images.
Andi and Kyle gave their mother’s eulogy.
Andi called her mom, “a ferocious leader.”
“As a mom, she taught me how important it is to spend time with the ones you love,” said Andi, a junior at Ocean City High School.
Throughout the service, mourners wiped tears. The sanctuary was filled with hockey and lacrosse players wearing red and white game attire.
Andi recalled the times, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when her mother would insist they do a lot of things as a family, including bike rides, movies, rounds of monopoly and card games.
Kyle, an eighth grade student who plays basketball, spoke of how his mother would coach him on the sidelines, while his actual coach would shout the same things. When she didn’t play coach at his games, he missed it.
“I realized how much I needed her,” said Kyle, a St. Augustine Prep student. “My mom won’t be able to be on the sidelines any more, but she will still be coaching me.”
Other teachers, coaches and friends spoke of how Helphenstine was dedicated, loved and will be missed by so many.
For those who could not attend, the funeral service was livestreamed by the church.
Some mourners watched from the church steps when they were told they could not enter because the sanctuary was filled to capacity.
Helphenstine’s brother, Todd Custer, looked out at the packed sanctuary and said, “I hope she can rest easy. My sister once said, ‘Cancer is a part of me, but it won’t define me.'”
Then Custer added, as his voice choked with emotion, “She is a legend, a rock star. Now she is an angel.”