When Newtown High School’s athletes aren’t winning championships or accepting awards, they excel elsewhere by helping others. Every varsity sport at the high school participated in some sort of community service, and most partook in multiple events.
“Community service is at the heart of our athletic department,” said Gregg Simon, athletic director at the school.
Cheerleading volunteered at the Light the Night walk to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, with the Newtown Fund’s Adopt a family program, and at the CH Booth Library Book Sale.
Some sports squads even teamed with others to help a cause, The cheerleading, girls’ and boys’ basketball, and the dance teams came together to help with the Coaches vs Cancer crusade, benefitting the American Cancer Society.
One fundraiser, in particular, that really stands out is the March of Dimes program which helps families deal with premature births. This is especially significant for Marc Kenney, head coach of the girls’ soccer team, whose sons were both born prematurely. “March of Dimes is a charity that is really special to me,” Kenney said. “It really hits home, ya know? I genuinely believe that often charities choose you, and my family has sort of made it our cause,” Kenney said.
Maura Fletcher, coach of the girls’ lacrosse team, and Matt Memoli, coach of the baseball team, have also gotten their teams involved with March of Dimes.
“I said two years ago that I feel like that it is times like this when you realize just how much of a family, not just your own program but the entire Newtown community, really is. It changed my life,” said Kenney.
The volunteer work is significant for the student athletes who gain valuable experiences.
“Community service has played a huge role during my athletic career at Newtown High,” said Anna Northrop, who was captain of the soccer and lacrosse teams team this past season. “It always brings the team closer together because its great to give back to the community that is so supportive of us during the season.”
The March of Dimes fundraiser means so much to not just Northrop, but for every member of the girls’ soccer program in town, and will continue to do so for many years to come, Kenney anticiaptes.
The girls’ basketball team, coached by Jeremy O’Connell, also had its share of fundraiser games. The team held a Threes for Charity basketball tournament at NHS, as well as the Coaches vs. Cancer initiative and, with the help of the Newtown Youth Basketball Association, hosted a Senior Citizen’s Night.
“We felt like celebrities,” said Mary Joe Rossi, a senior captain of the girls’ basketball team this past year. “We invited senior citizens to eat dinner with us, and after that we left to warm up, and they soon followed to stay and watch the game.”
Community service is beneficial on many different levels.
“I think everyone is affected by giving back,” said Kenney. “Whether it is charity work or simply helping out in the community, I feel as if it is just our duty as humans.”
“Its just an awesome experience,” said Rossi. “There is no better reward.”
“The community has always shown incredible support for our program,” said O’Connell. “We feel that anything we can do to give back to Newtown only strengthens that bond between our team and the community. The girls truly enjoy the opportunity to support all of Newtown.
Other fundraisers include the Faith Food Pantry Food Drive, Relay for Life, the Dig Pink Breast Cancer game, the 5K for Sandy Ground in Memory of James Mattioli, Babe Ruth Baseball Clinic, food pantries, and many more causes.
“Our student-athletes willingness to always serve the community says a tremendous amount about their character,” Simon said.
Kenney says that in his teachings over the course of the season, he strives to make each individual on the team a better person.
“When I look at what I want my students athletes to learn, I think just being a good person is most important,” said Kenney. Obviously sportsmanship, accepting defeat, work ethic, etc, are inherent in athletics, but all in all it cannot just be about wins and losses. I always say that those are easily forgotten. The thing that resonates with me is the relationships we have made and the good that we have done.”
Wins and losses come and go, championships are won here and there, but one thing that will always be a part of NHS athletics is community service, and making relationships with the good work that these athletes do.
“In the end, that is long-lasting,” Kenney said.