The emotion within Karen Byrne built up like a tsunami.
The New Britain High girls basketball coach knew she would be overwhelmed as she bade her official farewell to the seniors who had shaped her first two seasons, at the banquet for the school's two successful hoop teams Wednesday night. She fought it off with considerable determination but her seawall cracked.
Byrne, like so many high school coaches, puts forth incredible amounts of time and effort to prepare for and execute her season. Reporters, fans and teachers get to see the sexy part -- the games. They aren't around for the practices and the dynamics that are a part of every group striving to meet its goal, a part of every family situation.
One of the seniors -- Sinead Colom -- was unable to attend. Symone Roberts, surely the most decorated basketball player in NBHS history and perhaps the school's most recognized athlete since Tebucky Jones, joined her four-year teammates Sarah Sideranko and Monika Malec.
None of the three outwardly displayed the kind of emotion that overtook their coach, but these are high school seniors. They certainly are above average in intelligence, I grant you, but given the peer pressure associated with their age group and the blessed naivete of youth, they simply smiled.
Roberts, the state's Gatorade player of the year with a list of accomplishments far too lenghty to commit to memory, is headed for Providence College, where her blazing speed and desire to win may just help but that school's program on the Big East map.
Sideranko drained every milliliter of energy from her heart and soul for every second she was on the floor, but at 5-foot-nothing, basketball in college was not a likely scenario. But a person cannot be governed by physical restrictions. Sideranko, named the top academic female student-athlete at NBHS, rode her talents on the golf course for a scholarship to the University of Hartford.
And Malec, a versatile and determined young lady, showed wisdom beyond her years when she accepted her role on a team with the offensive explosiveness of a Symone Roberts and accentuated the team's strengths by giving readily of herself.
As Byrne said, New Britain High may never see the likes of this senior class again.
* * * *
It's been a rather busy time for me.
For a guy who rarely travels out of state, I jetted to Fort Myers, Fla., to cover the Rock Cats in spring training from March 29 to April 3. On April 4, the family zipped up to suburban Boston for a nephew's bar mitzvah. On April 8, I was retracing some of those tire tracks in driving up to Manchester, N.H., for the Rock Cats' season-opening four-game series against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
When I received an email from NB boys hoop coach Stan Glowiak two days prior to the banquet, I didn't think I could squeeze it in. When Karen Byrne phoned with her kind words about our work at The Herald, I had to go, and I'm so glad I did.
Byrne's seniors won two state championships, appeared in a third and coped with adversity this year when they had to forfeit five victories and fell victim to a smoking-hot Mercy team in the second round of the CIACs last month.
I'd be remiss not to mention Glowiak's boys. They're dream of a state title was dashed by Stamford in a double-overtime quarterfinal, but judging them on how far they got would be terribly misguided.
These are great kids, kids that Glowiak truly enjoyed coaching this year. As he put it, he didn't have to be a social worker and a surrogate parent this season. He just had to coach, and he truly enjoyed it.
The program regaled the efforts of seniors Raheem McKinley, Quashon Moore, Robert McKinnon, Darien Willis and Robert Bryant, whose season was all but wiped away by a knee injury. McKinnon, it should be noted, lay in a hospital bed during the proceedings with what Glowiak said could be a punctured lung. The assemblage quieted with concern over the Hurricanes' sixth man who came off the bench firing high-arcing three-pointers that often made a big difference.
I wasn't their outstanding records on the court that made this night special as it was the knowledge that these kids absorbed some of life's most vital lessons as part of their commitment to the team. As Glowiak noted, these kids will go to college. Some of them will return to the scene of their memorable hoop experience and give back to another group of youngsters seeking their route to a successful future through the haze of personal issues and peer pressure.
Glowiak referred to Michael Peterson, a NBHS grad who went on to the University of Rhode Island and now serves as the dean of discipline and an assistant coach. Peterson is the consummate role model and his commitment is a huge blessing to all he touches.
Now I ask you, isn't that what high school sports are all about?