Matt Williams column: Finding ways to say thanks without Senior Days

Thanks, Mom.Courtesy photo

Now 63 days since we started trying to power through the pandemic by shouting 'Serenity Now!' with thanks and admiration to the late, great Jerry Stiller ...

You think about everything a senior student-athlete in the Class of 2020 lost out on experiencing with the cancellation of the entire spring season, and your heart breaks. Strictly speaking about education, it's one of the worst things about this pandemic. You won't get any argument from me on that.

There's one thing that's off by just a degree or two. We lament the loss of Senior Days, nominally home games where graduating players are honored.

From my point of view, though, the worst thing about losing Senior Days is not that we can't honor those 12th graders — but rather that those same 12th graders don't have the chance to return the favor for everyone around them.

Shift the scene back 18 years to Peabody High, where I am a senior student-athlete. Senior Days as we now know them have not yet been invented. A parade of players being announced over the loudspeaker before their final home game — as we so often see now across the North Shore and beyond in just about every sport — just isn't commonplace. In the fall of 2002, it's not something I've ever heard of or experienced.

One Thursday night that fall, the school did stage something that resembled a Senior Day. The details I can remember are sparse; I'm not sure why there wasn't a similar event in the winter or spring that year. I'm not sure if every fall sports team was there to announce the seniors, or if it was just us football guys along with the cheerleaders.

I can tell you inane details from every football game that season, but I can't really remember which one came the night after this pseudo Senior Day.

What I do remember was the distinct feeling that we were not there to honor ourselves.

I remember our captains were asked to give a speech thanking the coaches, which I was conscripted to help write (so it goes when you're one of three guys taking AP English).

All of our parents were there and, as we sat on the bleachers in the gym, I remember thinking that we needed to thank them, too. For everything they did to help us get where we were: all the rides to and from everywhere before we could drive, all the team dinners, putting up with our swings of emotion after long practices, making sure we finished our homework, and on and on.

There were flowers for us to give our moms. I know this much because I have a photo of us from that night, a picture I always kept in my wallet (back when I carried a wallet).

At the risk of sounding self-centered, every time I hear someone say they're sad that kids have lost their Senior Day, that photo pops into my head. As I think more about lost Senior Days, I can't help but think of the people beyond the seniors that are also missing out.

For those whose No. 1 sport is football, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, basketball or hockey, be thankful that you had a Senior Day. For track kids or multi-sport athletes who love spring best, be glad at least you had one chance to walk out with Senior Day posters hanging proudly.

You can't replace a spring Senior Day, particularly because of the finality that comes with the months of May and June before graduation. A November or February Senior Day is special, but it never feels like saying goodbye.

In the coming weeks, I know that many of the coaches and athletic directors around the North Shore will be thinking outside the box and looking for ways to honor their seniors. Summer banquets, outdoor meet-ups, photo ops for a kid to wear a jersey one last time ... anything deemed safe is on the table.

For the seniors in the Class of 2020, remember that even in these difficult times, giving is better than receiving. You, too, should be creative in finding ways to get those messages to the people who helped you make it this far.

It won't be a hug on your home field. You may not get to look a coach in the eye when you say thanks. But a handwritten letter goes a long way and often expresses a lot more feeling. An e-mail, a recorded video message ... there's no limit to the number of ways you can express some gratitude if you put your mind to it.

Because if you've played sports for any length of time, you know you didn't do anything alone. Maybe it's the head coach, maybe it's an assistant or a scorekeeper. Of course it's your parents, but it could also be an older brother, sister or cousin who showed you the ropes.

Coaches and parents are alike in that neither is in the game for the kudos. Still, you can't possibly underestimate how it feels to be told that what you've done for someone makes a difference and has been noticed.

Don't leave it unsaid.

The Seniors of 2020 don't deserve only a chance to be told thanks by everyone that's supported their athletic careers. They deserve a chance to say it back, too.

 

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