Covering a portion of one of the walls in the Matautia home is a jumbo blanket with the image of their youngest child, Rex, pitching, possibly the last time he ever took the mound.
A newspaper clipping is taped to the wall below the blanket and even further down on a shelf sit four framed photos, a football and a trophy.
It has been nearly two years since Rex, 13, drowned at Lake Gertrude, a spring-fed body of water in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
The picture on the blanket was taken in Anchorage during an all-star baseball game 10 days before the incident that claimed Rex’s life.
Over the next four days, Rex’s life will be celebrated with the inaugural Rex Edward Matautia Invitational Tournament, hosted by the Kodiak High School baseball team at Baranof Field.
“It was an easy choice to name it after Rex,” coach James Arnold said. “We are honored to have a tournament in Kodiak, and at the same time be able to keep Rex and the Matautia family in our thoughts.”
Junior Matautia, Rex’s father, will throw out the first pitch for today’s game between Kodiak and Dimond. He was overjoyed when Arnold first approached the family about a tournament honoring the youngest of their four children.
“It is mind-blowing for us. It is a great honor for our family,” Junior said. “He loved baseball. He just loved the sport. He loved pitching.”
Rex enjoyed sports. He played football, basketball and baseball. He even tried wrestling, but stopped after he found out he had to wear a singlet.
“He said, ‘Dad, I am not wrestling in that. I can wrestle in shorts and a shirt but not that,”’ Junior said.
The memories are still fresh and will never be erased in the Matautia house. Stories like that bring laughter, as tears of pain have been replaced with tears of joy when Rex’s name is mentioned.
Rex spent a portion of his final day with his mom, Tala, and the family dog, a black pug named Mindy, at Mill Bay Beach. The three also made a stop at Rex’s favorite place to eat, McDonald’s — he would never pass up a Big Mac.
While at Mill Bay Beach, Rex received a text from a friend. It was a hot day and the friend wanted to go swimming at White Sands Beach.
Rex and two of his friends opted for Lake Gertrude instead. Four hours into their swimming adventure the group decided to push a log across the lake. The three made it halfway through the journey before abandoning the log.
Rex started cramping 75 feet before reaching the shore. His friends tried to help, but had difficulty grasping his 5-foot-11, 150-pound frame. His friends yelled for help while Rex sunk 12 feet to the bottom.
It took 25 minutes for Alaska State Troopers and firefighters to pull Matautia from the lake.
By that time — around 8:30 p.m. — Junior was sleeping off a day’s work on the couch in the family living room. A knock on the door ended his rest. On the other side of the door was a trooper with news a parent never wants to hear — that their child had been in an accident.
The family rushed to the hospital where they watched as doctors tried to bring Rex back to life, conducting CPR for what seemed like an eternity.
“After 20, 30 times I couldn’t take it anymore. He was gone. Everybody was getting tired,” Junior said. “I knew if they did bring him back he would be a vegetable and I didn’t want him to live like that.”
The rescuers stopped doing chest compressions and the room emptied, leaving the Matautia family alone with Rex. Emotions started to flow.
“That day we were sitting with Rex on the operating table, I wanted to blame my wife, the firemen, those two kids — I wanted to blame everybody,” Junior said. “I had to nip that in the bud that day we were sitting with Rex.”
He knew putting blame on somebody for Rex’s death would not bring his son back to life. Hours later family and friends attended a special church service in honor of Rex.
“The comfort that we had that night and the next day was so strong,” Tala said. “My heart was so warm that he is in God’s hands.”
That night while laying in bed, Junior thought about ending his own life.
“God said, ‘You have to go on for your other kids, your wife and your family,’” he said. “It has been great ever since. All my pain I gave to God. God has helped me go on with my life.”
Before the incident the Matautias attended church off and on. Now they never miss a service. A family death is never easy, but Junior said losing Rex brought everybody closer together. Noreen, the second-oldest, moved back home from Hawaii to keep her sister, Kalameli, a grade ahead of Rex, company. Raphael, the oldest and in the Navy, also returned home for a time.
“It has been a fun ride with the Lord,” Junior said. “Religion really took over and helped us through all of this.”
Junior wasn’t an athlete when he attended KHS in the early 1980s, but he coached Rex and was proud every time he watched his son play.
During the tournament in honor of Rex, the family will watch the team their son would have been playing on.
“Hopefully our team will win so we can keep the trophy,” Tala said. “We have an angel in the outfield.”
Contact Derek Clarkston at firstname.lastname@example.org.