Duluth track standout dies in his sleep
Running is what Matt Kero loved best. He joined the Duluth Denfeld High School cross country team as an eighth-grader and qualified for three Minnesota Class AA meets, finishing as Northeastern Minnesota's top entrant last fall as a senior.
He ran in the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon five straight years, getting faster each year.
He hoped to be among St. Scholastica's top cross country runners this fall as a freshman.
Kero's friendly, determined nature, however, was quieted Monday morning. He was found dead in his bed at home about 7 a.m. He was 18.
CPR was performed and paramedics were called. No immediate cause of death was determined, although an autopsy was being performed later Monday.
"I can't put into words what a competitor he was and how good of a person he was. He was one of a kind," said Denfeld junior Neal Kucera, a member of the cross country team. "Matt was very humble, but he was also one of the most confident runners I've met. He was a mentor for me, and, anything you needed, he was there to help."
Kero, the middle of three children of Tom and Mary Kero, was a cross country letterman for five years, team MVP the last three years and on the All-Lake Superior Conference team four times. He was also a Denfeld hockey varsity defenseman and ran on the track team.
"Matt was one of the most fearless competitors I've coached," said Gary Lepisto, a Denfeld cross country coach since 1986, and a co-coach with Joel Holman. "Every race and every practice he ran hard and held nothing back. If we had five runners with Matt's competitiveness and work ethic, we would have a team at the state meet every year. He was an absolute pleasure to have as part of our team."
Kero was to join St. Scholastica's team Monday for a week-long training session at the Covenant Park Bible Camp in Mahtowa to mark the start of practice.
Last season, he was fifth in the Section 7AA cross country meet and 81st in the Minnesota Class AA final, moving up 56 spots from the year before. Kero was also in the 2011 Minnesota Class AA track and field meet in the 1,600-meter run and the 1,600-meter relay and graduated from Duluth Central, with Denfeld being remodeled and new buildings built for the return of classes for 2011-12.
Tom Kero, along with brothers, Bill and Jim, attended Denfeld and played hockey at St. Scholastica. Tom Kero said his son was looking forward to college.
"He wanted to succeed and was willing to put in the time to get there," said Tom Kero, whose youngest daughter, Jessica, is a sophomore runner at Denfeld. "Running is what he enjoyed; it was his passion."
Kero was also a captain of the 2010-11 Central hockey team and a varsity member for four years. Coach Kevin Smalley, a 1980 Denfeld graduate who played hockey for the Hunters with Tom Kero, remembered asking Matt Kero to switch from forward to defense as a ninth-grader.
"He was great about it, accepted a new position and worked to become an excellent defenseman," said Smalley. "He touched us all by how he represented our school and by being someone of exceptional character. He was clean cut, he led by example and had the heart of a lion."
Smalley said Kero's hockey jersey No. 4 will be retired before the start of the 2011-12 season.
Kero, who worked in the West Duluth Super One produce department, had been training over the summer months and was 113th in the 2011 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon on June 18. He finished in 1 hour, 21 minutes, 25 seconds, running with Denfeld teammate Matt Lepisto, a junior this season.
"Matt was always there. He was always looking out for other teammates," said Lepisto. "He wore a necklace with a cross and prayed before every race. He was truly a good guy and a gentleman."
Five years ago, Jarrett Brenner, 18, of Cohasset, a Grand Rapids High School senior, died during a prep area all-star basketball game in Duluth on March 24, 2005. It was determined he died from a rare heart condition.
One of the top athletes from the area of the last 40 years, Terry Egerdahl of Proctor, died Dec. 15, 1980, suffering cardiac arrhythmia while warming up for a pick-up basketball game. He was 27.
Plans for services for Kero were not finalized Monday. Survivors in his immediate family are parents, Tom and Mary, and sisters, Katie, 21, and Jessica, 15.