AVON, Conn. (WTNH) — The Avon field hockey team prepares for a game with feelings from last week still warm in their hearts.
“It was the best night ever,” said Coach Terri Ziemnicki.
During a game against East Catholic High School, magic occurred in the third quarter.
“We were winning 5 nothing, it was a great time to put JV players into the varsity game,” explained Ziemnicki. “Then I thought about Kaylie, she’d never played in a game before.”
Kaylie Murphy is the first player ever on the team with autism. Ziemnicki sent Murphy on the field with peer Leah Cuyler.
“It just flourished from there, everyone was cheering for her…you could feel it, it was in the whole field, the stands,” said Ziemnicki. “Both teams were saying, ‘Kaylie, hit the ball, hit the ball.’ At that moment, the East Catholic goalie stepped aside and Kaylie shot the ball in, it went in. To see both teams jumping up and down, it was incredible.”
“They didn’t tell us, we weren’t planning anything,” said East Catholic goalie Bree Upton, noting that the spontaneous show of sportsmanship embodies their team spirit.
“It shows how strong as a team and community we are,” she said. “It’s not about us, it never was, it’s all about her and what we could do for her.”
“It was a tremendous feeling, very emotional,” added Kaylie’s mom, Michelle Murphy, who said the team has been so welcoming to her daughter.
She noted that Kaylie is a proficient skier and competes in gymnastics during the Special Olympics.
The 14-year-old may be limited with her words, but her energy shows that field hockey is a great fit.
“This is the first real team environment that she’s in and every day she wants to be here and it’s a gift,” said Murphy.
“When her mom first called and asked if we could have Kaylie on the team, she said, ‘She’s an only child,’ and I said, ‘Well, she’s going to have 30 brand new sisters by the end of the season,'” said Ziemnicki.
Kaylie’s skills are improving and make no mistake, her new ‘sisters’ are learning, too.
“I think she’s teaching me hard work and perseverance in the way she comes here during her off hours and works,” said Cuyler.
An inclusive experience. An extraordinary moment. And a season this team will never forget.
“I’ve been coaching here for 38 years and never anything like that in all of my coaching career,” said Ziemnicki with emotion.
Kaylie has three more years on the team. Ziemnicki can’t wait to see how this incredible relationship continues to progress.