- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

Matt Krimm looked forward to the arguments with Erik Kristensen.

Mr. Krimm graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School, and his friend graduated from Gonzaga.

The schools share a long football rivalry, one with a history of tales. There was, for example, the time Gonzaga supporters placed a deer carcass on the front steps of DeMatha, home of the Stags.

The schools take the rivalry seriously, and it is not something that simply goes away after graduation. That is one of the beauties of high school sports — a connection of youth that never fades, something that, 30 years later, Gonzaga and DeMatha grads still can talk about.

It was that way with Mr. Krimm and Mr. Kristensen, who died this summer. They had known each other for 25 years through their families, and though they were friends they embraced the competition between their schools.

“It’s a huge rivalry, something that you never forget,” said Mr. Krimm, the owner of W. Curtis Draper cigar store in the District.

Mr. Krimm, however, no longer will be able to give his friend a hard time about Gonzaga.

Mr. Kristensen, a lieutenant commander in the Navy SEALs, died at age 33 while serving in Afghanistan, one of 16 Navy and Army personnel killed in a helicopter crash.

His death inspired Mr. Krimm to do something that supercedes any high school rivalry, even that of Gonzaga and DeMatha.

Mr. Krimm has added a scholarship fund in Mr. Kristensen’s name at Gonzaga as part of “The Little Puff,” the annual cigar charity event he is holding tomorrow night at Charlie Palmer’s steakhouse. The event traditionally raises money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but Mr. Krimm wanted to expand it this year to honor his fallen friend.

“This was somebody I knew for three-quarters of my life doing something that I can’t even imagine,” Mr. Krimm said. “He died defending our rights and freedoms that people take for granted.

“I went to his funeral and listened to people talk about Erik and what he did and what he meant to all of us. I heard about the scholarship fund, and thought, ‘I got my event coming up. I wonder if I can make this work?’ … This is kind of personal to me, so we want to include this in the event as well.”

Mr. Krimm told Mr. Kristensen’s father, Edward, a retired Navy rear admiral, “As a good DeMatha guy, I have a hard time with this. But I am totally behind it.”

So are officials at Gonzaga, who are elated Mr. Krimm is raising money for the scholarship, which will pay tuition to the school for the child of a military family. They are happy even though Mr. Krimm is a DeMatha grad.

“That a DeMatha guy like Matt is doing this for a guy from Gonzaga really speaks volumes about Erik and what kind of person he was,” said Andy Battaile, director of admissions at Gonzaga. “We are thrilled.”

Mr. Battaile also was a teammate of Mr. Kristensen’s and recalled his love for sports.

“He loved being part of a team,” Mr. Battaile said. “He was a defensive and offensive lineman, a big kid. On the field, he was a very imposing presence because he was so large. Off the field, he was a very gentle person.”

Mr. Kristensen went on to the Naval Academy, following in the footsteps of his father, who played football there with the great quarterback Roger Staubach. Mr. Kristensen competed in crew, but he had ideas of making another team.

“We didn’t think he had much of a chance when he said he wanted to try out for the SEALs,” Mr. Battaile said. “We didn’t think he had the strength he needed to be a SEAL. He didn’t make it the first time. The second time he hurt himself, and he tried it again and he made it. It was that kind of determination to win that athletics breeds into you.”

Athletics also breeds the kind of connections that last a lifetime — and beyond. Those connections will help raise money tomorrow night in the memory of Erik Kristensen, who once did what boys from Gonzaga will do two weeks from now: Play DeMatha in what will someday be the time of their lives.

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