In memoriam: Christine Hrbek

By Michael Macagnone

Christine Hrbek didn’t shy away from challenges in athletics or academics.

Her… Christine Hrbek didn’t shy away from challenges in athletics or academics.

Her family, friends, teachers and coaches often noted her determined attitude and work ethic, which stood out in the classroom, on the field and on the court.

“She could be the tough guy on the sidelines or the compassionate kid who worked at the Special Olympics,” her father, Michael Hrbek, said.

Hrbek, who was entering her senior year at Pitt, died June 24 in Kunkletown, Pa.

State police in nearby Lehighton, Pa., are still investigating, and a cause of death has not been determined.

“It’s been a tough time for us,” her father said. “Her kindness was just unbelievable, and that is what I think people will miss the most about her.”

Most details about her death have not yet been made public, and the cause of death may not be released for several months, according to police.

Hrbek was born in Hackensack, N.J., and lived in Effort, Pa. She graduated from Pleasant Valley High School in Broadheadsville, Pa. in 2007. Hrbek attended the College of Business Administration at Pitt’s main campus and majored in accounting.

The family held a viewing June 28 at the Thomas Kresge Funeral Home in Broadheadsville, Pa.

A funeral service was held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 29 at the funeral home.

Hrbek is survived by her parents, Michael and Jo-Ann, and siblings Michael, Daniel, Amanda and Samantha.

Christine was buried at the George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, N.J., a bush-lined cemetery flanked by a park and a country club in northern New Jersey.

In the time since her death, the community sprang up to support Hrbek’s family. More than 100 people have commented on, an Internet memorial site, expressing their condolences at the family’s loss and sharing their memories of Hrbek.

Those comments varied widely. Some were written by family friends and high school classmates. Others were college friends and Hrbek’s teachers at Pitt.

Hrbek said that the outreach from what he called Christine’s “Pittsburgh family” surprised them, with students making the trek across the state for the viewing and service to offer condolences to a family they had never met before.

Lauren Keating, a Pitt-Greensburg student who played basketball with Christine since fifth grade, said that she would miss her friend very much.

“She was a great person,” Keating said. “She lived life to the fullest.”

Christine Hrbek, her father said, grew close with the girls she played sports with when she was younger.

“She had the spirit of a mustang, the smile of a beauty queen and the courage of, well, yes, a lion,” Michael Hrbek said, quoting Brenda Sisco, who was friends with Christine Hrbek from childhood.

The 21-year-old played softball and basketball in high school and lettered in both sports.

In basketball, Hrbek “played tough every night,” her former coach, Jim Taylor, said. “She loved the competition.”

She took to the court with a passion, Taylor said, and “didn’t bat an eye” at the opposition, no matter whom she faced.

During her senior year, Hrbek played as a point guard. Although she was a bit taller than the position usually demanded, Taylor said that her intelligence and determination allowed her to succeed.

Taylor — who had known and coached Hrbek from junior high — said that her competitive nature and determination made her an asset to the team.

“No matter what, she played hard,” Taylor said. “She was good to have on your team and not against you.”

Scott Caffrey coached Hrbek for three years on the high school’s softball team, the Bears. He described her as a

“tough-nosed kid,” who did whatever she set herself to do.

That determination brought her the defensive player of the year award while playing at third base her senior year at Pleasant Valley. She committed very few errors, said Caffrey.

While she wasn’t the best hitter in the world, Caffrey said that Hrbek brought the same attitude to the plate, and — whether it was bunting or just getting on base — she did whatever was asked of her.

“She could give you an impression that she was a tough kid,” Caffrey said, “but she was really caring.”

Caffrey remembered that his daughter, 5 at the time, looked forward to watching the games when Hrbek played.

After the games, Hrbek would carry Caffrey’s daughter around on her shoulders.

Christine Hrbek, Caffrey said, valued her family very much and would often go to watch her brother Daniel’s baseball games.

Michael Hrbek said that the two siblings were close, and Christine Hrbek would help her brother with anything.

“Christine could be doing anything, and whatever it was, she would drop everything and support him,” he said.

Michael Hrbek said Daniel Hrbek spoke at the service for his sister, saying that he was inspired by her and hoped that he could be like her in the future.

Now, Michael Hrbek said, they hope that their family will come closer as they heal from a tragedy that has been “really tough to swallow” for all of them.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to hug your loved ones a little bit closer,” he said.