Kyle Wright, 20, of Bellmawr, knew Ryan Coyle better than most.
They first met in middle school, enjoyed the same sports and were occasional teammates.
Coyle was very quiet, Wright said, but boy was he funny, and when both enrolled at Gloucester Catholic High School, their friendship truly deepened.
After graduation, when Wright went off to attend Coastal Carolina University, Coyle was the last person to leave his send-off party.
“[Coyle] was shy, but he opened up when he knew people,” Wright said. “Everyone loved him; he was hilarious.”
Because Coyle was so well-liked by those around him, Wright said, he was stunned to hear how his friend died: beaten in a tailgate scuffle, the victim of a sucker punch allegedly delivered by 21-year-old Westville resident Matthew Shields.
Shields is still awaiting trial on aggravated manslaughter charges, so the official details of the fatal encounter have yet to be made public. Wright said Shields and Coyle “knew of each other only because of another kid they hung out with.
“I’m sure Ryan didn’t have his number or hang out alone with him or anything,” Wright said.
At the same time, however, Wright added that he’s in no hurry to discover the whole story. He’s not sure he has the stomach for it yet.
“I honestly personally don’t want to know the details of it,” Wright said. “As much as I was very angry, I feel for that kid [Shields]. Me and my buddies have gotten into stupid fights before. “
The fact that Wright and his friends had escaped such situations and lived to laugh about it amplified the tragedy of Coyle’s death, Wright said.
They “used to tailgate all the time at Phillies games” and had even gone to see Jimmy Buffett the year before. In fact, Wright’s mother, Francine, was even in attendance at the concert the evening Coyle was allegedly beaten.
Saddened by the loss of his friend, Wright wanted to endow a scholarship in Coyle’s name at his alma mater. But because he was far away at college in Myrtle Beach, SC, it fell to younger sister, Kaitlyn, 17, and Francine, to get things in motion.
“We’ve gotten so many messages and people asking what we can do to keep Ryan’s spirit alive,” said Kaitlyn Wright. “Me and my mom were trying to do what [Kyle] can’t locally.”
They came up with the idea of selling $15 T-shirts and using the money to seed a trust that would get the scholarship rolling. On the front, surrounding a winged baseball, are the words “In Loving Memory of Ryan W. Coyle.” On the back, in maroon writing, is a quote developed by Francine:
Your gift of life was taken too soon…
Your gift of love & laughter will live
Forever in our hearts
The Wright family posted the design to a Facebook page, and say they’ve received an overwhelming response. Whenever anyone puts his or her name, shirt size and quantity, “it automatically sends it to my Excel sheet,” said Kyle.
“Once they all come in, I’m going to have a couple dates and times for people to pick them up,” he said.
Kaitlyn said they expect to sell through an initial order for 300 shirts.
“We’ll see where it goes from there,” she said. “Everyone’s willing to help.
“It’s hard obviously, very hard,” she said. “We pray for [the Coyles] every day.”
If you'd like to support the scholarship efforts of the Wright family, click here to go to the Facebook page, "T-shirts in Memory of Ryan Coyle." There you can share a remembrance of the late Bellmawr man and place your order.