Seashore vacation turns fatal for budding student athlete

Rugby player Josias Sterling, 19, was enjoying the waves on Ocean City, N.J. when he fell victim to a rip current.

Rugby player Josias Sterling, 19, was enjoying the waves on Ocean City, N.J. when he fell victim to a rip current.

When Josias Sterling stopped at diners on the road to rugby games, he always ordered a slice of apple pie for dessert. The 19-year-old native of Philadelphia’s Olney section will be remembered for his American spirit, his love for rugby and his affinity for that certain dessert.

Sterling, a Temple student, was in Ocean City, N.J., with a group of former teammates from his alma mater, North Philadelphia high school St. Joseph’s Prep, for a rugby tournament. Little did he and his teammates know, those summer days would be the last they’d see their friend: While swimming off the shore with a friend, Sterling was tragically swept to sea and drowned.

On July 24, Sterling and friend Ryan Gregory were in the ocean when they were caught in a rip current. Gregory made it back to shore, but Sterling didn’t. Later that day, rescue crews searched for the 19-year-old athlete but could not find him.

More than a week later, policeconfirmed that Sterling’s body was found by the Route 52 Bridge in Ocean City and identified.

Sterling’s coaches and friends joked about his love for America’s classic dessert. His former coach, Bill Gregory, recalled how every time they dined out on the road, Sterling would order apple pie. Soon, Gregory’s wife began making the budding young athlete pies when he came over for dinner.

But more than anything, friends and former coaches alike said they remember Sterling for his love of rugby. He was known as a tenacious and skillful player with a hard work ethic and natural athletic ability.
Sterling was the son of Haitian immigrants and one of six children. He attended high school at St.
Joseph’s Prep on Girard Avenue near 17th Street, graduating in 2008 before continuing his education a stone’s throw away at Temple, pursuing a dual degree in advertising and communications.

Gregory, head coach of the University of Scranton’s rugby club, was Sterling’s first coach at the Prep school. He took Sterling under his wing and said the two became like family after long trips on the road.

“It was love at first sight. He was a son to me,” Gregory said.

Tom Farren, the head rugby coach at Sterling’s high school, recalled his speed and aggression on the field.

“He was one of the most tenacious players I’ve seen. He was a real game changer,” Farren said.

Sterling was one of the key players who led his team to state playoffs during his senior season, Farren recalled. He was also named as one of eight tour captains for the team’s trip to Ireland that year.

Sterling’s death delivered a hard blow to the rugby world. Former coaches and teammates expressed their upset over losing such a dedicated player, and USA Rugby even sent its condolences to his family.

But Sterling was much more than another player on the field.

“He was as intelligent as he was athletic,” said Gregory.

A lover of music, Sterling also had a busy social calendar. Friends recalled that he was always there for them and always had a smile for everyone. Temple rugby head coach John Sciotto remembered the teen’s positive attitude.

“He was a great kid. He’d be smiling all the time, even when I’m yelling at the guys in practice,” Sciotto said. “He distracted me from being mad.”

St. Joseph’s Prep is honoring Sterling’s memory this year during its annual Black Friday tournament. After the alumni games, there will be a seven-on-seven game in his honor. Plans are not yet official, but several teams already committed sport the name “Josias Sterling Apple Pie 7.”

Cait Berry can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.