When Annabelle Marie Roos was born on Dec. 29, 2014, her cheeks were pink and full of life, surprising not only her family, but her doctors as well.
It was a testament, her mother—Bishop Lynch Volleyball Coach Tricia Roos—would say later, to the faith, hope, and mercy of God’s love.
Annabelle Marie Roos was born with Trisomy 18. Months earlier, when doctors told her mother she should have an abortion, forget her and try for another child, the young and popular coach said “no.” She was being called to fight for her daughter and to witness to others in her situation as she prepared to lead her team to a third straight state volleyball championship.
This is the story of Annabelle Marie Roos and her inspiration to a high school volleyball team, a community and a family who heeded God’s call to protect life.
Over the past 50 years, Bishop Lynch High School has been built on faith and tradition. Like many other Catholic schools, it has blended rigorous academics and competitive athletics in a Christ-centered curriculum.
Its students have garnered numerous academic honors and its graduates have gone off to not only high-profile careers in business and law, among other industries, but also into areas of service to the community and the church. It counts a bishop among its alums.
On the playing field, its sports programs have been power houses. Football. Girls Basketball. Wrestling. And another of those storied programs is the girls’ volleyball team.
In the summer of 2014, even before it prepared to defend its back-to-back state titles, the team learned that its tough road to a historic “three-peat” would come with challenges off the court.
Coach Roos, who also serves as the school’s admissions director, was at a conference in Oregon in July 2014 when she got a phone call from her obstetrician’s office. Tests done a few days earlier showed that the child she was carrying had Trisomy 18, a mostly fatal condition.
Shocked and confused, she quickly made arrangements to return to Dallas to be with her husband, Jonas, and 3-year-old son, Cameron.
A few days later, after a few more tests, it was confirmed Annabelle was carrying the extra chromosome. Doctors told Roos that chances were slim that she would carry the baby to term and that if she did deliver, her baby girl would most likely die. Her physicians advised her to have an abortion. She immediately said no.
She quickly decided to tell those at Bishop Lynch. The community, especially the volleyball parents and players and coaches, rallied to her side.
“Even though some of our struggles obviously aren’t nearly as big as hers that she’s going through right now with Annabelle, it’s the best example we could ask for when we go through tough situations or we’re worried about something,” senior volleyball player Sofia Schleppenbach said. “We know that we can always turn to God because that’s exactly what Coach Roos teaches us to do.”
Roos relied on prayers, and inspiration from them. She found solace in Psalm 139: 13-16. She said that she was being called to be strong and faithful for her daughter, Annabelle — and for her other daughters, those on the close-knit volleyball team who when faced with adversity or tough decisions later in life would know how their coached handled it.
“Why would I back down from a challenge, when every day I ask these girls to step up to challenges?” she said. “I’ve been saying that for years and that’s always been the way that I coach. Now that God is actually putting a challenge in front of me in a different way, I felt like this was my opportunity to say yes to the challenge instead of backing down and saying no.”
School President Ed Leyden saw how Roos managed her jobs as admissions director, volleyball coach, wife and mother and a cheerleader to other students.
“Tricia and her baby, Annabelle, the life that the Lord has chosen to put within her, are real examples of Christian living to this community,” he said. “It is a living witness, first to the decision that she made— she and her husband Jonas— to give life, to continue giving life to this child. That the child is in the Lord’s hands, not ours, is heroic.”
Roos said she was anything but a hero. Yet, those who know her say that they weren’t surprised by her stance because of her strong Christian faith and values and the importance she places on family and the solidarity of her friends. All were very important to her going back to her early days as a little girl, making clear why those teen-age years were important to her and why she knew that this year would be important to her volleyball girls, as well.
-- Psalms 139:13-16
Tricia Heflich was born in 1982, the first daughter born to Henry and Debra Heflich. In 1985, sister April was born. In photos in several of her scrapbooks, there are photos of the two of them and their parents.
But her parents separated and divorced when the girls were young and they went to live with their mother in Pottsboro. In that community near the Texas-Oklahoma border, Tricia did well in school and sports.
At Pottsboro High School, she was an all-around athlete, playing basketball and tennis, running track and playing volleyball. She won athletic and academic honors throughout high school, including being named the school’s top female athlete her senior year. It was also in high school that signified a period in her life of the solidarity and importance of friendships, when having fun with friends and going to the prom were just as important as days in the classroom or nights on the court.
Upon graduation, she enrolled at Baylor University. That’s where she also met Jonas Roos. They fell in love and eventually got married. In 2005, she was hired to do communications work at Bishop Lynch, but she soon was pushing to do more.
She later became the admissions director and soon also wanted to coach the volleyball team. Each one of those is individually demanding, and combined, it was a challenge few had undertaken, much less sought. But she was given the chance and thrived.
Volleyball is among the most competitive girls’ high school sports. Parents spend high dollars for their girls to participate in club teams and to get skills coaching. At Bishop Lynch, once a girl makes the team, she becomes a part of an extended family. And in 2012 and 2013, they became part of a championship family, as those teams won state. So, in the summer of 2014, when the team learned about Roos’ condition, its players rallied around her, found strength in her journey and dedicated their year to Annabelle. Annabelle’s Army, a group of prayer warriors, was formed and its Facebook page lit up.
Throughout the fall, Roos juggled doctors’ appointments, her life as a wife and mother, corresponded with other mothers who had children with Trisomy 18 and guided her team through bible studies, practices and games. When she took her story public to the media to raise awareness about life, many others rallied to her cause with prayers while others online criticized her, calling her a hypocrite and that her daughter would surely suffer.
Still, Roos and her family, and her BL family, moved on. The team faced familiar opponents on the court and easily won district. They advanced in regional play and as the final week of the competition year neared, Athletic Director Andy Zihlman held back tears as he addressed the team.
“First of all,” he said, “we, the school and the athletic department, are so proud of what you've accomplished so far this year. You are really a testament to yourselves, the program and to Bishop Lynch High School, in how you carry yourselves on the court and off the court, in the success you've had not just in district play but in pre-district play, playing against some of the top tough opponents. It's remarkable what you have done and what she has done with you in such a short period of time.”
“Lastly, I’m so proud of you all for supporting this lady, what she’s had to go through with her family, and what a testament she is to all of you and to our school,” he said, pointing to Roos. “I admire her so much and I admire all of you for what you’re doing for her. Thank you very much for that.”
And Roos, true to her mentoring form, wrote a letter to her team, telling them how much the year had meant to her, having them by her side during her journey.
On Nov. 8, more than 300 Bishop Lynch supporters, including dozens of members of Annabelle’s Army, traveled to the championship game at Corsicana High School. The opponent: crosstown rival Ursuline Academy. The Lady Friars dedicated the match to Annabelle. They won in four games, winning Bishop Lynch’s third straight Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools volleyball title.
“She’s taught a lot of good lessons to these kids with her situation that she’s going through,” assistant volleyball coach Josh Krueter said after the championship match. “I feel like it was a win-win all the way around for all of us. She provided a little extra motivation for the kids and we helped provide a little motivation for her.”
-- Excerpt from Tricia Roos' letter to the Bishop Lynch girls' volleyball team
As Bishop Lynch closed for Christmas break, the joy of the season was also melancholy as the Roos family prepared for their own Christmas arrival with a mix of emotions and fears that their time with Annabelle would be too short.
At around 6 p.m. on Dec. 29, little Annabelle came into the world at 3 pounds, 13 ounces. For the next 150 hours, as friends prayed, the family was able to spend most of those waking hours with Annabelle, first at the hospital, then at home. Cuddling, baths, photo sessions and trying to get Annabelle to eat. But mostly just looking at Annabelle in amazement and thanking God for her life. Those were all part of their days that turned into nights that turned back into days.
Shortly after midnight on Jan. 5, little Annabelle took her last breath, her parents and aunt, April Wade, by her side.
In the days that followed, including the memorial service at Park Cities Baptist Church, the family was surrounded by hugs and prayers. Tricia Roos received dozens upon dozens of emails, which she has kept, and is now aware of other women within the diocese, including a former student, who are carrying a child with Trisomy 18.
In January, amid the roar of motorcycles from the Knights of Columbus riders, the murmur of rosaries being recited by countless prayer warriors, and dozens of people carrying signs in honor of Annabelle, the Roos family led thousands of people from the Dallas Convention Center to a parking lot in front of the Earle Cabell Federal Building during the annual March for Life and Rally.
And on April 18, to a standing ovation at the Bishop’s Pro-Life Dinner in Irving, the Roos family was honored as the Persons of the Year.
The coach told everyone about how each life matters and said that the number 18 was very significant.
“I believe it is no coincidence that we are celebrating the life of a baby girl with Trisomy 18 on April 18th and that our stand for her life started on the 18th of July,” she told the crowd. “I think that’s just God’s way of showing his love for all of us and Annabelle.”
These days, Tricia Roos continues with her work as admissions director and is preparing for summer volleyball camps and to round out her new team. She hopes and prays for a few things that will help her hold onto her daughter and ensure that Annabelle that will always be part of her family.
“The smell of a newborn baby, having her so close to me in her blanket, is something that I hope that I never forget,” she said. “Looking into her eyes and feeling her skin, there are so many things that beside looking at pictures and remembering her physically — what she looked like and hoping that you can remember — I think the more that you talk about it and think about it, the more you can hold onto to those memories.”
For the Bishop Lynch community, especially the players on the championship team, the impressions and example that Roos has left will also be everlasting.
“She’s been their mentor,” said Jill Reed, mother of senior volleyball player Morgan Reed. “She has taught them that there is so much more than life on the court. They’re going to face difficult decisions in their life. Hopefully she’s setting an example on how to make the right choices and lean on your faith. I know Morgan is going to walk away from Bishop Lynch as a stronger Christian and a stronger player.”
Chris Rebuck—the dean of students who has been named president, replacing Leyden, who is retiring at the end of the year—said the community pulled together even more in the past several months and that the coach was responsible for that.
“Tricia’s decision to share her story with our community has really called kids to a new level of awareness, not only about themselves, but about others and how we, as a community, are called into suffering and joy together,” said he said.
And that is what Roos believes her journey and Annabelle’s life was all about.
“I am very, very hopeful that a lot of people are affected by Annabelle,” she said. “I want people to see her life as having value and being just as important as anybody else’s life—whether you live a hundred years or one day.
“I learned a lot from that experience and I think it has made me a better and stronger person. I really think that there are a lot of lessons to be learned in valuing a human life.”
Staff writers Seth T. Gonzales and Michael Gresham contributed to this story.
-- Dallas Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel