Dean Khoury grew up with two main talents — playing sports and getting laughs.
He was the youngest of three brothers who played at least three sports each, often coached by their dad, Ted.
“Dino was like the city mascot,” his father said Sunday in his Linwood home. The front door was busy with friends bringing hugs and condolences after Dean, 15, died in a Saturday accident that also killed three of his Mainland Regional High School football teammates and injured four more. “I was always out coaching, the boys were always with me, and everybody knew Dino.”
But with this young athlete, the action on the field was only part of the show.
“He made everyone laugh — he was the truest form of a clown,” said Ted Khoury, 49, a financial adviser. He spoke of his son’s “big smile, round head and long eyelashes. He looked like Charlie Brown on the pitchers mound.”
Dean had better success on the field than his hard-luck comics character, playing baseball for Mainland his first two years at the school — his junior year would have started next month. He also joined his older brothers, Drew, 19, and Brian, 17, in local basketball and soccer leagues as they grew up in Northfield.
Ted and the boys’ mother, Denise, are divorced, and the sons split time between their parents’ homes. Denise is an English teacher at Absegami High School.
Dean made all-star teams in baseball — at 13, he was on the Atlantic Shore League team that’s currently competing in the Babe Ruth World Series in Clifton Park, N.Y. — but he had a different body type than his taller, thinner brothers. So he gravitated to a sport nobody else in the family played: football.
At 5-feet-9 inches tall and 175 pounds, his dad agrees Dean was undersized for his position as a “grunt” guard, but he was a tough one.
“Girls loved to hug him,” Ted Khoury recalled, smiling. “It was like grabbing a sack of meat — like Rocky used to punch, ... He found that with a little bit of work, he could put himself together almost like a rock — immovable.”
The youngest kid in the family used football to assert his own identity.
“This was his thing, what differentiated him from the rest,” Dean’s father said. “My three sons all played baseball, but Dean played football. ... And this was the thing he looked forward to the most — football this year.”
Ted Khoury, who played baseball at Atlantic City High School and still plays in a Sunday softball league, liked to dream of a time when his boys could join him on an adult-league team. Two of them played with him in a charity tournament earlier this year, but Ted hoped to keep playing at least until Dean was old enough to join the adult team full time.
That’s not to say that the youngest Khoury was always completely cooperative.
“He was coachable for every coach — except me,” the father admits, after also acknowledging this, with a small grin, about his youngest boy:
“I don’t want to use the word ‘incorrigible,’ but he struggled with respect for authority — a lot,” Ted Khoury said. But with the “threat of not being able to play sports, (Dean) could clean it up.”
Dean’s sense of humor had a way of helping him get through things, too.
“He could make adults laugh,” said this father, who said he isn’t afraid to be realistic, he just thinks that “parents on the whole are extremely fond of my boys. But they always had a special spot for Dino.”
He says that with pride. And at this tragic time in his family’s life, Ted Khoury is also proud to say that his son was an organ donor, which may help improve the lives of others.
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