Leg­endary coach loses bat­tle with can­cer, but her spirit lives on

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - NEWS -

“She was pas­sion­ate, loving, and full of grace, while also be­ing per­fectly tough and fiercely com­pet­i­tive.” Kel­ley Devlin, a for­mer player and 2005 Had­dam-Killing­ton grad­u­ate

Work­ing with high school kids is a priv­i­lege that comes with sub­stan­tial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. That re­al­ity was never lost on Patsy Kamer­cia, long­time phys­i­cal-ed­u­ca­tion teacher and field hockey coach at Had­dam-Killing­worth High School in Hig­ganum.

Coach Kamer­cia al­ways ap­proached her job with the ut­most pro­fes­sion­al­ism, in­spi­ra­tion, and love dur­ing ev­ery one of the 35 years she taught, and 41 years she coached at H-K.

Last week, Patsy Kamer­cia, 69, died af­ter a brave bat­tle with a rare can­cer that af­fects the bone mar­row and blood. Her pass­ing was felt by the scores of play­ers, stu­dents, col­leagues, and friends who knew Patsy be­cause, quite sim­ply, she de­fined ev­ery­thing that was right about pub­lic schools and athletics.

“She was one of the best peo­ple I knew, some­one who would be com­pletely hon­est with you be­cause she loved and cared for you,” wrote a for­mer player in a typ­i­cal Face­book trib­ute. “She was some­one who pushed you to be your best. Some­one who also just loved you, as is. Thank you for teach­ing me how to be an ath­lete, team­mate, sis­ter, friend, and daugh­ter. You were a sec­ond mom to me.”

Coach Kamer­cia was in­deed a pioneer — a true role model for girls — as she be­came the first-ever woman to serve as ath­letic direc­tor at a Con­necti­cut pub­lic school, a feat earn­ing her in­duc­tion into the Con­necti­cut Ath­letic Di­rec­tors Hall of Fame. Sub­se­quently, she was also in­ducted into the Con­necti­cut Field Hockey Hall of Fame, the Con­necti­cut State Coaches’ Hall of Fame, and the Had­damKilling­worth Hall of Fame. She was, quite sim­ply, a suc­cess­ful woman who em­bod­ied con­fi­dence and who in­stilled that same self-as­sur­ance in her play­ers.

“She was pas­sion­ate, loving, and full of grace, while also be­ing per­fectly tough and fiercely com­pet­i­tive,” noted Kel­ley Devlin, a for­mer player and 2005 H-K grad. “She turned my timid lit­tle fresh­man self into a con­fi­dent ath­lete. She gave ev­ery­thing to her teams and was so in­ten­tional in help­ing us cre­ate awe­some mem­o­ries and build­ing strong friend­ships.”

The coach’s suc­cess on the field was ob­vi­ous. She won 461 to­tal games, 16 Shore­line Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships, and four state cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing last year’s Class S ti­tle shared with West­brook.

Hartford Courant reporter Lori Ri­ley ex­plained that Coach Kamer­cia “opted not to tell her team of her di­ag­no­sis last year. She wanted them to en­joy their sea­son. And about a month af­ter the Cougars tied West­brook 1-1 in over­time for the Class S state cham­pi­onship, she fi­nally told them.”

Typ­i­cal Patsy. It was al­ways about the kids, al­ways about oth­ers. Any­one who worked in the same build­ing as Coach would never know of her field hockey suc­cess ex­cept through the girls on the team. She al­ways kept it about the kids — about the team.

In like fash­ion, Coach Kamer­cia de­vel­oped a tra­di­tion whereby she in­vited high school staff mem­bers — other teach­ers and coaches — to de­liver a pre-game speech be­fore state tour­na­ment games. The point was to ex­pose her girls to the wisdom and en­thu­si­asm of a va­ri­ety of adult role mod­els.

“Coach K asked me to speak to her team be­fore a state game two years ago,” said Rob Grasso, as­sis­tant foot­ball coach at H-K. “I asked her why a coach who has won all those state cham­pi­onships would ask a coach who hasn’t won any cham­pi­onships to speak to her team. Her sim­ple re­sponse was, ‘You love kids and you love coach­ing. Give us your pas­sion.’ I did my best. I was hum­bled that day.”

We are all hum­bled. Patsy was not a role model for just stu­dents and play­ers; she led the way for col­leagues, too. I al­ways ad­mired the ded­i­ca­tion and op­ti­mism she brought to school ev­ery day, and I never stopped learn­ing from the ex­am­ple she set. It’s a feeling that will stay with me for a long time, just as it has with her play­ers.

“She was an amaz­ing coach,” said Aimee Sul­li­van Yar­ber, who played for Coach Kamer­cia in the 1990s. “I didn’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate her as a teenager mak­ing me work hard, but as an adult I can look back and see the ma­jor im­pact she had on my life. She taught me stamina, per­se­ver­ance, and most im­por­tantly, heart. When I ran my first half-marathon at age 34, there was only one per­son I wanted to see — Patsy Kamer­cia.”

We miss Coach Kamer­cia al­ready. Thank­fully, she has blessed us with her in­deli­ble, af­fir­ma­tive in­flu­ence. Barth Keck is an English teacher and as­sis­tant foot­ball coach who teaches cour­ses in jour­nal­ism, me­dia lit­er­acy, and AP English Lan­guage & Com­po­si­tion at Had­dam-Killing­worth High School. Email keckb33@sbc­global.net.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.