By Maddie Gerber
Hometown Weekly Intern
Last spring, Needham High School’s girls’ softball team played its final game against Braintree, which was not only an undefeated team, but also the league champions. The Rockets, who hadn’t made the playoffs that year, were undoubtedly the underdogs, and knew this would be their last game of the season. However, in an unexpected turn of events, “we ended up winning 10-8, beating one of the best teams in not only our league, but the state,” reflected head coach Stephanie Magni. “It was a great way to end the season.”
Unbeknownst to them, when the juniors walked off of the field that day, it was not only the end of the season, but also the end of their high school careers.
Countless other senior athletes experienced the same heartbreak as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the nation and stopped the spring sports season in its tracks. Although these seniors never got the final season they had hoped for, or the celebrations that were sure to accompany it, this does not negate their incredible hard work over the past three years. It does not negate the community they built with their teammates, the adversity they overcame in the bottom of the ninth or in the final set, nor the determination, loyalty, and resilience they have gained. Although their high school sports careers did not end how any of us could have ever imagined, that doesn’t mean that their journey is any less deserving of remembrance.
According to Unified track coach Robert Super, his fondest memory of his seniors was at last year's State Sectionals, when Needham placed second. “Our kids were so happy,” Super reflected. “They were singing and dancing on the podium and it was awesome to see how far they had come as athletes. When we started Unified track three years ago, it was a brand new experience for most of the kids. Some of them had to learn the fundamentals of running. Most everyone had never thrown a javelin or a shot put before… yet they were all able to come together and learn and grow into some great athletes.”
Water polo coach George Stamides shared a similar sentiment about his seniors, many of whom, just like the Unified athletes, had never played before high school. “We started the team five years ago and slowly, but surely, it built up from six kids to over 30,” Stamides said, crediting the seniors for being a major factor in that growth. “I admire their willingness to try new things. Water polo is not a big sport here in Massachusetts, and I admire the fact that the seniors were willing to give a new sport a shot.”
Admiration was a common theme among the coaches, who were all proud of the athletes and people that their seniors have become. “I admire their hard work and dedication to the sport,” reflected girls’ rugby coach Ryan Hargraves. “They all would continue to show up, support their team and give it their best.”
“I admire their resiliency,” said girls’ track coach Chris Van Cott. “This class is one year behind the class that Adrienne Garrido and Talia Newfield would have graduated from (both of whom were members of the cross country and track teams). This year's seniors handled those tragic events with grace and dignity, and I know that they will rise to the occasion with how they handle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”
“I admire how loyal they are to one another … and how much they enjoy each other's company,” said boys’ tennis coach Andrew Lawrence. “This group has slowly, over time, become a really 'tight' group. I've seen them grow into great ambassadors of the game of tennis, and sportsmanship.”
“I admire their work ethic,” said boys’ volleyball coach Dave Powell. “I’ve seen them mature immensely and become mentally and physically stronger. Their leadership skills have all grown drastically.”
Not only have the athletes grown into admirable people, but they have also inspired their coaches to grow, as well. “I’ve changed a lot,” said Coach Super, reflecting on his past three years of coaching. “I had never coached track before and had to learn a whole new skill set … These kids have taught me a lot about friendship and the drive to try something new.”
“They have given me a new appreciation for the meaning of 'resilient,'” said Esther Jesurum, head coach of girls’ ultimate frisbee.
“They have taught me to bring light to every situation,” said Coach Magni. “They are a funny group and always enjoy laughing, so they believe a good laugh or joke makes tough times better, and it does - it truly does. Even through all this going on, they were able to stay positive and try to bring light to the situation with a good laugh - a great message for the underclassmen.”
Although the coaches are sad to see them go, they have no doubts that these seniors are more than ready for the challenges they will face after high school. According to baseball coach Matthew Howard, “This has been a difficult spring for all, and despite missing out on many activities they've looked forward to and worked hard for, they understand the bigger picture in the current situation. They're mature, confident and ready for life after high school.”
“They are such an impressive group of outstanding young women, so ready to make their mark on the next community they touch,” said girls’ lacrosse coach Paula Kelley regarding her seniors. “I am so confident in each and every one of them, that it will be just as impressive and impactful as the imprint they have left here in Needham. I wish for them happiness, health and lots of great new and exciting adventures in college.”