On Saturday, March 30, Donna and Marv Koch arrived at MAPFRE Stadium in their yellow rain ponchos to watch Columbus Crew SC take on Atlanta United FC in downpour conditions.
At the gate, the couple was met with comments of surprise from the stadium ushers, to which Donna responded, “We saved the Crew. Why would we miss this game?”
That wasn't the first time people questioned her family's relationship to the club, however; back in 1995, when she would tell people that they had already pledged to be season ticket holders prior to the team's actual start in 1996, she recalled receiving funny looks.
Regardless, of course the Crew went on to win that water-logged match vs. Atlanta in 2-0 fashion, in what turned out to be under extreme downpour conditions, testing the roots of the mid-Spring grass at MAPFRE Stadium as much as those of the die-hard Crew supporters.
Looking back, this was but a taste of the ways in which Donna and her family have exhibited their loyalty to the Black & Gold. In fact, they were the 64th Season Ticket Members in Club history. For perspective, there are 13 players on the current Black & Gold roster that are younger than Donna's tenure as a Season Ticket Member.
Speaking of looking back, Donna’s love for soccer started long before the idea of Columbus being the inaugural MLS team was even on her radar. When her son, Todd, was five years old, he was told that he would never be allowed to play contact sports because of multiple surgeries he had already had on his nose.
At the same time, Todd was just starting grade school, where he received a flyer to play on a local soccer team. Donna took Todd to the doctor, who then cleared Todd to play, not knowing that soccer was, in fact, a contact sport. Of course, Todd not only went on to play soccer throughout his youth, but also at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio. Years later, Donna recalled running into the doctor at the store, who apologized for naively letting Todd play a contact sport, but as it turned out, it was for the betterment of everyone involved.
Todd graduated in 1995, just in time to help select his family’s seats in the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States. He had picked Section 106, Row 8, with the logic that he wanted to have a seat at midfield and a few rows up so that he could watch the play develop. He also wanted to be on the east side of the stadium so that he could see the faces of the players on the bench.
At one point, Donna and her family have had up to seven seats in Section 106, one of which belonged to her mother, Alice, who moved to Columbus from Houston in 2004 and was a big fan of American football.
Fittingly, when she moved to Central Ohio, Alice was most excited to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play football. Though she didn't fully understand soccer, Alice eventually agreed to attend a few Crew games with Donna.
In a short amount of time, Alice had become an enthusiastic supporter of the Black & Gold, building relationships with some of the players who had met her at various season-ticket-holder events.
When Crew SC won the MLS Cup in 2008, Donna and Alice, met the team at the airport, where Alice was greeted with a hug from Crew defender Frankie Hejduk.
Fast-forward three years later to 2011 when Alice, who was 85 at the time, was selected to be the Fan of the Year after just being introduced to the sport. After making special arrangements, Alice arrived at the ceremony in her nursing home van, where she received her trophy from Chad Marshall and a t-shirt signed by the entire team.
Alice passed away early in 2012 and Donna inherited the signed t-shirt from her mother. At one of the matches that spring, Donna was standing on the stage when she ran into Frankie Hejduk, who Alice wanted to meet following her Fan of the Year award, but Hejduk had already moved on from his tenure with Crew SC. Regardless, showing the character that Hejduk is, Frankie asked Donna about her mother, to which she informed him of her passing.
Frankie had not been part of the Black & Gold the year before and had not signed the shirt. Donna then asked him to sign it, because “he was Alice’s favorite player.” Frankie then signed the shirt, “To my best fan Alice, thank you for being so loyal. Love, Frankie.” When Donna turned around, she noticed tears well up in Frankie's eyes.
Since then, Donna and her family continue to describe themselves as “true-blue Crew fans inside and out” and have developed a community among the people who they sit by in the stadium.
She explained how she has gotten to watch kids grow up at Crew games. One of the boys who sit in her section is a certified referee, who she and other members of her section rely on for input on calls during the matches, just to keep the Video Assistant Referee in-line, of course.
Donna and her family have rarely missed any games over the past 23 seasons, but when they do, they find someone to fill their seats, including once their dentist. She plans to pass her season tickets to children and grandchildren. When asked about passing down the tickets she said, “We thought these tickets will be in our families forever because it has been such a big part of our lives."