Survival of the fittest

Daniel Kostick (center) with younger brothers Tommy and Andrew. KEVIN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

With a bullet still lodged inside his body on Thursday night, Daniel Kostick had a simple question by the time he saw a doctor at Penn’s Presbyterian Hospital.

He wanted to know if he could still play soccer on Sunday.

Kostick, a 31-year-old bicycle patrol cop in the 19th District, was shot in the line of duty on Thursday evening while conducting a narcotics investigation in West Philadelphia. According to published news reports, Kostick noticed smoke emanating from a white van and was shot in the right arm while attempting to question the van’s driver, later identified as William Nobblen. Nobblen allegedly told Kostick, “I don’t want to have to do this,” before shooting the six-year veteran in the arm; Kostick returned fire, striking Nobblen in his arm, and the suspect was apprehended shortly thereafter, taken into custody and later charged with attempted murder and related offenses.

Although the bullet still remains embedded in his back, Kostick, a married father of two young children (his eldest son turned 2 over the weekend), was released from the hospital on Friday afternoon. Roughly 48 hours later, he was on the sideline at Ramp Playground, watching his soccer team, the FC Survivors, take on their friendly rivals, the Stingers. Kostick normally plays sweeper for the Survivors, a team made up mostly of police officers, relatives and friends who play in the Casa Soccer League, “Philadelphia’s largest independent amateur adult soccer league run by volunteers who love soccer,” according to the league’s website phillysoccer.org

On this day, Kostick, his right arm cradled in a sling, was reduced to the role of cheerleader as his team, which included younger brothers Tommy and Andrew, competed. Daniel Kostick certainly has a long road to recovery in front of him, but the prevailing emotion on Sunday was relief.

“I get emotional,” said Paul Lukert, a director of logistics for a trucking company, who has played with the Survivors for four years. “When I heard a police officer was shot, the first thing I hoped was that it wasn’t a relative or friend. And it’s horrible to think that way, because you should treat everyone equally. I got sick to my stomach when I heard a cop in the 19th District was shot. I said to my girlfriend, ‘I hope it’s not Danny Kostick,’ and it was.”

Signing up for the police force always carries the inherent risk of being shot in the line of duty, and the unpredictability of the job is nerve-wracking for loved ones. So when somebody like Kostick takes a bullet and lives to tell the tale, days like Sunday mean more than just a soccer game … instead, they become precious opportunities to cherish one another.

“When Danny got hurt, it just really brought things close to home,” said Sgt. Frank Barclay, a 25-year-veteran of the force and the Survivors’ coach and goalkeeper. “By the grace of God, he’s here. I’m 45 years old, so on the soccer field, Danny makes me look good. I’ll be on my back half the time, but if I see Danny, I know the ball is getting cleared. He’s our defensive captain. We appreciate each other; we don’t get together as much as we should, but we’re one big family.”

Families, of course, reserve the right to poke fun at one another, an opportunity Barclay relished.

“He only got hit in the arm, his legs are still working,” Barclay joked. “But we know if he could, he would be out here. We might scream at each other on the field, but after the game is over, we sit down, we break bread and we have fun. We get closer every year on this team, and I’ll play until I can’t walk anymore.”

For his part, Kostick, who has been playing with the Survivors since he joined the force in 2009, knows he’ll miss the rest of the season as he recovers from his wound. But it was important for him to be present on Sunday to give back some of the support that has been coming in his direction in an overwhelming manner.

“I really enjoy the family aspect, the camaraderie,” said Kostick, who lives near Frankford and Harbison avenues. “I just wanted to be out here to support them. It’s always nice to get out here and play with them. It’s a lot of fun. My soccer skills are terrible, trust me, but I’m already ready to get back out there. I feel as good as I can and I’ll follow up with the doctors this week. I’ll be out for the season, and I don’t have any idea on recovery time yet. The bullet is still in my back.”

The Casa League brings those from all walks of life together. There are cops, doctors, plumbers, college students, firefighters and more all under one umbrella, which adds to the overall diversity of the league. League president Tim Hampson said there are 68 teams that play throughout the year, and the Survivors have been a Casa team for seven or eight years.

“Frank has been a big proponent, and I think we share the same vision,” Hampson said. “This is the place to play for Philly soccer. It’s all nonprofit and volunteers, so you get out of it what you put in. It’s multicultural with people speaking in different languages. It’s for every class of people: you can have a millionaire lining up with a guy who took the bus to get to the field. It’s social for them, something to do together on the weekend.”

That was especially true for the Survivors, a blend of young and old, male and female, cops and not cops. Family members, including Kostick’s wife, Allie, dotted the sidelines during the game action.

“I want to make it a point as one of the guys who runs the league to have a Christmas party, a barbecue, things we can bring our families to,” Barclay said. “We’re all a part of this. I look after your kids, you look after mine. You just never know. In 25 years, I’ve lost a lot of friends, be it in the line of duty, a heart attack, an illness. It’s a stressful job, and never in my career have I seen this much hatred toward police. I just thank God he’s up and walking around. It’s a long road for him and we’ll definitely miss him out here, but as long as we have him on the sidelines, we’re happy.”

Kostick felt much of the same.

“When I saw the ad (for the police force), I signed up and that’s where I’m at,” he said. “I want to make Philly a better, safer place to live. That’s what it’s all about. It’s great to just get out of the house, because you can’t get stuck sitting all day. Just to get up, walk up and down the field and talk to everyone … the outpouring has been huge, the support from everywhere and everyone. It’s been huge. Our whole family is close, and being out here and playing, it’s everything.” ••

Kostick with the FC Survivors. KEVIN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

Back on his feet: Three days after he was shot in the line of duty, Officer Daniel Kostick stood on the sidelines as his soccer team, the FC Survivors, competed on Sunday. Kostick has been playing with the team since he joined the force in 2009. KEVIN COOK / FOR THE TIMES