The pain of a sudden tragic loss may never go away, and healing is often a life-long process. But what if, in the wake of a tragedy, an idea is born that is so powerful and positive it can change young lives immediately and forever.
“43 Lessons to Legacy” is that idea – a ground breaking curriculum designed to develop the character of young people and their influencers using 43 specific select words of empowerment such as “courage,” “purpose,” and “acceptance.” Officially launched in March, this empowering program is the cornerstone of the Lutzie 43 Foundation established in memory of star football player Philip Lutzenkirchen – late nephew of UM Women’s Basketball Coach Kate Meier.
“When you are blessed with the task of leading young people, the responsibility of sharing the right message lies squarely on your shoulders,” says Meier, now moving into to her 11th season with the Hurricanes. “Coaches must develop leaders within our organizations who understand our hearts and can translate our messages into winning action.”
Meier helped create the 43 Lessons to Legacy with family and friends in the aftermath of the tragic car accident that took Lutzenkirchen’s life in 2014, at just 23 years old. She then tested the program within her team late last year, by taking 15 to 20 minutes a day to discuss the Word of the Day before putting it to use on the court. Some refinements were made and now the lesson book has been bound and readied for distribution.
“From day one, my players totally immersed themselves in the curriculum,” says Meier. “As a result, this was my most authentic season ever with my team. It has already changed my life and transformed the culture within the team.”
The overarching mission of the Lutzie 43 Foundation is to develop the character of young people and their influencers by focusing on leadership, charity, compassion, mentorship, hard work, honesty, and faith through education and real-world application.
“I never coached Philip, but as his aunt, I often marveled at the goodness in his heart,” says Meier. “He was a devoted son, a loving brother, compassionate friend, and inspirational teammate – and he always went out of his way to help others.”
Lutzenkirchen is remembered by most for his accolades on the football field. At Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga., he became one of the top tight-end prospects in the country. And at Auburn University, Lutzenkirchen became a household name when he caught the game-winning touchdown in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
No doubt, Lutzenkirchen had an enormous presence in the community, but he also impacted the world in remarkable and quiet ways that went far beyond football.
Meier recalls her amazement at his funeral service upon learning of some of her nephew’s behind-the-scenes acts of goodness. “He didn’t brag about this kind of stuff, such as the time he took a special-needs girl as his date to the high-school prom. Not surprisingly, his parents Mary and Mike knew about his good deed, but no one said anything at the time.”
What he did on the field, however, was a different story, as everyone watched his every move.
“As team captain, Philip had a very passionate fan base – almost a cult following,” says Meier. “There were more than 5,000 people at the funeral, alone!”
That Night in June
It was the early hours of June 29, 2010, when news broke of the accident in LaGrange, Ga., that took Lutzenkirchen’s life. He was in the back-seat of a car that careened off the road and flipped several times. Found to be intoxicated at the time, both he and the driver were not wearing seatbelts. They were tragically killed when they were ejected from the car. The other two passengers, wearing seatbelts, lived.
“He wasn’t driving, but still…” said Meier, “had he not been drinking he would have put on his seatbelt – and certainly he would not have gotten into that vehicle with a drunk driver, or let someone drive drunk.”
Nonetheless, it clearly was the worst decision Lutzenkirchen ever made and it cost him everything, Meier said. “And there are no second chances at life when you are gone.”
But, through the Lutzie 43 Foundation there is a chance at learning from his mistakes, and there is great opportunity to empower young people through all the good Lutzenkirchen’s did in his short life, both on and off the field.
Lutzenkirchen’s jersey number 43 lives on in the number of Daily Words that make up the 43 Lessons of Legacy curriculum, completed in March. Currently being piloted in a number of schools across the country, the program is designed to be used by coaches, mentors, and other group leaders with middle-school, high-school, and college students. “We would love to bring the program to schools in Miami, too,” Meier added.
How it Works
Users of the curriculum are taken on a journey through Philip’s life and are challenged to “Live like Lutz, Love like Lutz, Learn from Lutz.” It consists of daily lessons focused on key character words. Each lesson includes definitions and quotes, along with a story relating the character word to everyday life – a word that others used to describe how Phillip touched their lives.
Contributors include many individuals who were impacted in some way by Lutzenkirchen, such as All-Star baseball and football player Bo Jackson who presented Lesson 25 on “Giving” and other well-known public figures including Auburn University’s Head Coach Gus Malzahn, and ESPN and ABC TV Reporter Tom Rinaldi, along with close family and friends.
The word “Patience,” the leading word in the program book, was conceived of and written by Lutzenkirchen’s mother Mary. Following is an excerpt from Lesson One:
“Accepting life’s challenges takes great Patience and strength. Many times the original plan does not play out as one might have expected. No matter how hard you may work in school, practice, or in your career, there will always be times of disappointment and setbacks.”
The initial thrust of the foundation was a public speaking program conducted by Philip’s father, Mike Lutzenkirchen, who also serves as the foundation’s executive director. Since the day he delivered his son’s eulogy two years ago, he has been spreading the word through his courageous discussion of Philip’s life, in a presentation entitled, “Philip’s Legacy… What Legacy Are You Leaving?”
“He is using this personal tragedy as a platform to help young people and future leaders learn from Philip’s mistakes,” she added. “And in the last days of Philip’s life, he made a lot of regrettable mistakes.”
The foundation also is enriching young lives by hosting several fundraiser events throughout the year in order to fund $4,300 scholarships for college-bound participants of the 43 Lessons program who display outstanding leadership skills.
Get program pricing information by visiting or by calling Mike Lutzenkirchen directly at 770-331-6999.