For the Girls’ Varsity Basketball Team, there is one game night in the season’s line-up that stands out, and it has nothing to do with the visiting team or the final score.
On “Someone Special” night, each team member invites a person who has made a difference in her life by supporting her endeavors or establishing a connection through kindness. As an act of gratitude, the girls could show their appreciation by honoring them in a brief presentation and by dedicating their efforts in that night’s game to “Someone Special.”
The eighth annual “Someone Special” night was held in a new location, the Massey Leadership Center’s Holmes Leadership Classroom. Faculty, friends, and family members filled out the group, which spilled into the hallway.
The event stems from a gesture by one of Head Coach Neil Duffy’s former student-athletes nearly a decade ago. The man, whom Coach Duffy refers to as “S.F.”, was a member of an elite U.S. Special Forces unit. Unbeknownst to Coach Duffy, “S.F.” had carried a United States flag with him on a mission. He gave that flag, along with a certificate, to Coach Duffy as an act of kindness and appreciation.
With “S.F.’s” permission, Coach Duffy decided to replicate the spirit of the act within his sports teams. In addition to the basketball team, the Boys’ Varsity Lacrosse team hosts a similar event under the title “Play to Honor.”
Following a brief introduction and after thanking the players and honorees for attending, Coach Duffy welcomed the girls up to commence the main event. A Kleenex box was on hand, and it was soon deemed necessary, as the players began their speeches.
Seniors Mackenzi Mills ’18 and Robin Drees ’18 announced the designated team honoree, Mrs. Tricia Affronti '79, who works in the bookstore and has been an administrator in Summer at the Academy, among the many roles she has played at the school.
In their tribute, the girls noted: “Mrs. Affronti works the scoreboard at every game. She brings another level to Norfolk Academy athletics; we’re so grateful and we love her.” They added, “She’s actually working the scoreboard for the JV game right now!” which was met with laughter and appreciation from the crowd.”
One by one, the girls and their “Someone Special” made their way to the front of the room. Phrases such as “greatest supporter,” “biggest cheerleader,” and “I love you” seemed to be present in all of the speeches. One included a special handshake. Many were met with tears. All ended in hugs.
Not all who were honored were in attendance for the event. Some of the honorees were at meetings or out of town, like senior Juliette Benedetto’s grandfather, Joseph. His absence was felt, although Juliette creatively drew a stick figure on the whiteboard to represent him, much to everyone’s delight.
Robin Drees once again approached the front of the room, this time to recognize her honoree. Mrs. Sarah Goodson was busy coaching the Girls’ JV Basketball team, so she was unable to be there when Robin shared the following advice, “I want to advise the underclassmen to take the opportunity to get to know this amazing woman.”
All of honorees were given a long-sleeve shirt and certificate, a replica of the one brought back for Coach Duffy from his former student.
The event meant a lot to Mr. Bernie McMahon, the Middle School’s Assistant Director/Dean of Students, and Middle School history teacher, who was honored by Taylor Harvey ’18. Although it was his third time being recognized at a “Someone Special” night, he still finds it emotional.
“It’s remarkable…such an honor,” he said. “We so heavily stress building relationships at this school, and this is validation that those relationships mean a ton.”
In addition to the players selecting honorees, Coach Duffy had also invited a person to whom he wished to show his appreciation.
Ms. Katherine Holmes, former NA German teacher, dedicated 49 years to teaching at the school. In fact, the classroom where she was being recognized was dedicated to her. Coach Duffy told the group how much he respected her and told of her wit and tendency to pull harmless pranks on unsuspecting faculty members, counting himself among the group. Ms. Holmes was honored by the gesture.
“He (Coach Duffy) is a prince of a man,” she said. “He is so wonderful…he taught me how to fist bump!”
As the clock ticked toward the start of the game, Coach Duffy ended the event by thanking everyone for their support of the players, then turned to his team: “Girls, I am really proud of you.”