Debbie Marks Lake’s posthumous induction into the Mercer County Soccer Hall of Fame honored only one of her talents. The former Ewing High School star was good at many things.
“She was a great person, a great teammate and very, very coachable,” said Shelly Dearden, who coached Lake in soccer and basketball at EHS. “She was smart and very knowledgeable. No matter how tough it was or how hard it was, she stepped up and made it easy. It didn’t matter if she was young or toward the end of her life.”
Lake’s infectious smile is the first thing that most remember about her. It was a smile that made others smile, and still does to this day, two-and-a-half years after cancer claimed her at age 43.
“She was such a wonderful person on and off the field,” said Denise Picerno, a friend and teammate of Lake’s since middle school. “Everyone always has a smile on their face when they think of her. There’s not one thing she did that she didn’t succeed at.”
Lake had a relentless competitive drive that made her an unparalleled athlete. She won 10 varsity letters at Ewing—four in soccer, three in basketball and three in softball. She was elected captain of five different teams in her EHS career.
“I tell everybody she was the one you always wanted on her team,” said Suzanne Brennfleck Borgos, a friend since they were toddlers who is the president of the Debbie Marks Lake Foundation.
“She was relentless and never gave up. Fierce is the best word I can use. She was competitive, but so skilled. I loved to watch her play any sport. She was amazing to watch on the basketball court and softball field. If she lacked anything in skill, her desire to win would help her come out on top.”
In 1989, Lake helped the soccer team go 15-5, win the Mercer County Tournament and the Central Jersey Group III state championship titles. Lake was the sweeper for the Blue Devils, and a big reason that they outscored opponents, 55-11, that season.
“She was a very tough defender, and a very good leader in the back,” Dearden said. “She controlled the game from the defense on up. She controlled everything.
Lake’s soccer contributions were celebrated with her induction into the Mercer Hall of Fame on April 7 at the Hibernian Club in Hamilton. Friends and family gathered to recall the sort of player and friend that she was.
“It was her feisty competitiveness that made her so driven,” Picerno said. “We were pretty much on the same line for always wanting to win and never wanting to lose. She was incredibly driven. She was a fierce competitor.”
That competitiveness was manufactured early in her life.
“My girls were the first girls to play Little League with Ewing,” recalled Lake’s mother, Barbara Marks. “My husband was very involved. They grew up with this nature to be very competitive. She would never back down. And she was this way in life. Nothing was too great to conquer. That even goes to how she fought cancer for three-and-a-half years.”
Her desire to excel in athletics pushed her to new challenges when she got older. It didn’t matter who Lake was up against, she wanted to do her best.
‘I looked up to her as not only the type of athlete I wanted to be, but the woman I wanted to be.’
Lake earned a scholarship to LaSalle University, where she captained their women’s soccer team and was just as valued for her defensive contributions as she’d been at Ewing. She played sweeper for LaSalle as well, and the defensive role suited her personality.
“Even off the field, she supported causes,” Borgos said. “She loved the underdog. I think being a defensive player was the exact fit. She didn’t need all the glory. She was going to make sure everyone was protected.”
Lake was just as driven when it came to the classroom. She was LaSalle’s Scholar-Athlete award winner in 1994, and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in accounting. Five years later she went back for a master’s degree in management information systems.
“She garnered so much respect,” Borgos said. “I looked up to her as not only the type of athlete I wanted to be, but the woman I wanted to be.”
Lake worked for Johnson and Johnson for 21 years, and she stayed connected to athletics by coaching her own children in Ewing and then when they moved to Robbinsville. Her husband, Michael, and her children, Matthew and Ava, still live in Robbinsville.
Lake died in October, 2015, but the philosophy that she followed until her death of “Love, laugh, always tell the truth and be thankful,” has been promoted through the foundation in her name. For the past two years, the foundation has awarded a senior girl from Ewing High a scholarship with Jenna Capuano being honored in 2016 and Danielle Rinaldi in 2017.
“Her memory has been kept alive,” Marks said. “In this award, her spirit lives on.”
Lake’s parents return each year from Florida to be a part of the scholarship presentation. This year, the foundation will offer a $1,000 scholarship.
In addition, the foundation that is also known as Debbie’s Dreams is looking to expand its support of Lake’s interests.
“We really are going to look to subsidize athletic programs, youth sports, animal welfare programs and we’re still brainstorming, but anything else that we know was important to Debbie,” Borgos said.
Her friends and family think of her daily and what she brought to their lives. The Hall of Fame induction was one more reason to get together and remember all that she meant.
“She was a great person and a great friend,” Dearden said. “Everyone continues to be there for her and her family. Her Ewing teammates are the ones that I know the most that have stepped up for her and continue to stay in touch with the family. That era of Ewing athletes was very close with each other and continue to be close with each other.
Lake was inducted into the Ewing High School Hall of Fame in 2010, but she was more than just a good athlete. She was the sort of person that no one will forget.
“As a teammate, she was a phenomenal leader,” Picerno said. “She was distinguished in everything she did. She was an amazing athlete. She was a leader. Everyone followed her. I couldn’t speak highly enough of her. She was a phenomenal person all-around. Everything she did, she exceeded at.”
The Debbie Marks Lake Foundation, or Debbie’s Dreams, strives to keep her spirit alive by supporting people, projects and causes that embody her passions and ideals. Follow the Debbie Marks Lake Foundation Facebook page, and donations can be made out to the Debbie Marks Lake Foundation and mailed to: PO Box 7861, Ewing, NJ 08628.