BRICK – This Crystal was a diamond.
Wife. Mother. Teacher. Coach. Cheerleader. Award-winning gymnast. Award-winning bodybuilder.
Crystal Marie Marousis Handchen left an indelible stamp on Earth.
“Crystal touched hundreds of thousands of lives – more than I can count – in and out of the classroom,” said her husband, Rick Handchen, Brick Township High School’s retired athletics director.
Marousis Handchen lost her life to a stroke at the age of 63 on April 20, 2021, in North Carolina where she, her husband and the couple’s daughter, Ashleigh, lived. She was a highly respected teacher and cheerleading coach in the Brick Township School District for decades. A 1976 Brick Township High School graduate, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Clarion State College and a Master’s Degree in elementary education and reading specialist certification from Georgian Court College.
She began her teaching career at the elementary school level in 1980 and taught in the Brick Township School District for her entire career. In 1987, she began teaching mathematics and science at the Veterans Memorial Middle School where she was nominated several times for Teacher of the Year.
Marousis Handchen launched her coaching career in 1980 as the coach of the Brick Pop Warner cheerleading team. She also coached cheerleading and gymnastics for Brick Township High School and Brick Memorial High School. She coached the Mustangs’ cheerleaders of Brick Memorial from 1984-2002 and returned to the program she loved in 2005 until her 2014 “retirement.”
Soon after arriving in Pinehurst, N.C., she was hired as the varsity cheerleading coach at Pinecrest High School. She was an advisor for the Veterans Memorial Middle School Drama Club and several other clubs and organizations and was a member of the Metropolitan Cheerleading Judges Association.
She worked for cheerleading judging organizations for years and coached for the World Cup All-Stars from 2002-2010. Named Teacher of the Month in 2002, to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2000 and Outstanding Coach by the New Jersey State Cheerleading Coaches Association in 1998, she and others were inducted into the Brick Memorial High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017. She was named the North Carolina Cheerleading Coach of the Year in 2021.
Marousis Handchen was honored with the naming of a street, Crystal Marousis Handchen Way, at Brick Memorial near the Mustangs’ field where she nurtured many a cheerleader. Despite the pouring rain – perhaps God blessed the sign and her memory with holy water – dozens of family and friends turned out to honor their idol.
“She was an excellent teacher,” Handchen said. “Several of her students have told me she was the best teacher they ever had. Years later, her kids kept in touch with her. They remembered her and thanked her for what she did for them. They will tell you she was very, very tough on them. They will tell you that’s why they were good and why they turned out to be good, strong women. She was a special person. The turnout was awesome. I am very proud of her. People felt she was very deserving of the honor.”
As part of the ceremony, Handchen performed the coin toss prior to the football game won by Brick Memorial over Brick Township. Brick Memorial (9-0) closed its first unbeaten regular season in school history with the win.
The couple was married for 29 years before Marousis Hanchen’s passing.
“She had no previous medical issues,” Handchen said. “She never saw a doctor. She probably had high blood pressure for a number of years. She may have never known she had it. Everyone should be examined by a doctor once a year.”
The couple met as Brick Township High School students. They began teaching together at Veterans and started dating.
“I liked Crystal as she was always busy,” Handchen said. “She was always active. Coaching cheerleading consumed her. I was into soccer, ice hockey and golf. We had a lot in common and we had the same time off, which was nice. We did not have to adjust our schedules to see each other.”
The athletic complex at Brick Township High School was named the Warren Wolf Athletic Complex in honor of the legendary Green Dragons’ football coach who died in November of 2019 at the age of 92. A nearby elementary school also was named in his honor.
“Someone told me that Crystal is the Warren Wolf of cheerleading,” Handchen said. “There is no better compliment than that. Like coach Wolf, Crystal never cursed.”
A saying of Marousis Handchen’s was, “Walk with me, never behind me.”
The CMH Walk With Me Foundation was created in honor of Crystal Marousis Handchen. It was designed to raise funds to support high school athletics, extracurricular programs and present cheerleading scholarships to deserving participants in New Jersey and North Carolina. It is done through annual scholarship offerings at Brick Memorial and Pinecrest in Southern Pines, N.C. The foundation organizes and runs a series of fundraisers throughout the year to raise the money for the offerings.
“A simple phrase with great meaning, one of equity, respect and pride,” her former partner teacher, Michael Liebman, said on the foundation’s website. “A phrase made even more impactful when said to a student in need of guidance, an athlete in need of encouragement or a friend in need of support. These are words that can be shared in times of celebration and times of crisis. These are words that make someone take notice and take action. These are words that in the moment may be a reminder and later resonate as a life lesson.
“Crystal Marousis Handchen was a teacher, coach and mentor. She would immediately make you part of her extended family. Crystal had high expectations of herself and those around her. Once you were part of her world, she insisted that you walk with her, never behind her.
“Crystal was an advocate for students and athletes and she was passionate about high school cheerleading. Crystal believed that there was a correlation between achievement in the classroom and success on the athletic fields and through extracurricular programs. She also believed that every student who was willing to work for an opportunity to be a champion should have the opportunity to do so despite any obstacles that might stand in the way,” he said.
According to the foundation, if Marousis-Handchen suspected someone was hungry either in class or on the field, she’d hand them a healthy snack. When she sensed a student was in distress because of a problem at home, she’d quiz them with questions that many felt uncomfortable asking. She was known to deliver groceries to students whose families were struggling. She was known to buy that dress and a hair-and-makeup session for the girl who could not afford it so that prom night was as special for her as for anyone.
The third annual Crystal Handchen Memorial Golf Tournament 2023 took place at the Mid-South Club in Southern Pines, N.C. Among its participants were retired Brick athletes, coaches and educators Dennis Filippone and Warren Charles Wolf and ex-Brick athletes Tom Nussbaum, Jerry Puorro, Cliff Janssen, Phil Lucca and Orie Corino.
Handchen, 64, won the Ocean County Golf Tournament in 1977 when he graduated from Brick. He coached the Pinecrest High School girls golf team to the North Carolina state title in the fall of 2021.
“The tournament in Crystal’s honor has raised about $30,000 in three years,” Handchen said. “If either an athletic team or a student are in need of gear, we take money out of the foundation and give it to them.”
Handchen said this year’s event consisted of 93 players and about another 30-35 persons for a gift auction and dinner.
Brick Memorial athletic director Ed Sarluca was impressed with Marousis Handchen.
“She started our cheerleading program and coached our girls gymnastics team,” he said. “She was dedicated and committed to the school community. She was infectious, motivating and inspiring. It was not an act. She lived Brick Memorial High School pride and spirit every single day. She was a winner. She commanded respect and she earned it.
“She gave her heart and soul to Brick Memorial High School.”
NOTE: Patch.com contributed to this report.