Deerfield athletes stay connected to the larger sports sphere in a number of ways, by following favorite professional sports or cheering on local teams from back home. That’s why when a recent tragedy hit the sports community, Deerfield athletes did their best to pay homage in a unique and honorable way. For a long time, Deerfield culture has been shaped by the hockey team, whether it means dressing up in bright jackets for 80s Night or lacing up with squads and friends on the weekend for Open Skate. But now, the hockey team symbolizes something more than a Friday night game; but rather an embodiment of true Deerfield team spirit, as they pay respect to a fallen athlete in the hockey community.
Sarah Duval was a young, dedicated, and passionate hockey and soccer player from Andover, Massachusetts. In May of 2020, Duval was diagnosed with leukemia. Throughout her treatments Duval stuck closeby with her teammates, who described her as “hilarious, kind, outgoing, brave and courageous” (Andover Townsman, Feb 9 2021). After a long, grueling and courageous battle, Duvall tragically passed away on February 8 of this year, at the young age of 11.
Following her passing, Andover community members honored Sarah’s legacy by placing soccer balls and hockey sticks standing upright outside of locker rooms and athletic centers in her memory. At a recent game, the Andover Hockey Association encouraged players to raise their sticks up to the sky in unison as a “Salute to Sarah.” Many players also honorably bore “Sarah Strong” on their sticks and helmets in her memory.
The Deerfield boys’ and girls’ varsity hockey teams are paying homage to Sarah’s legacy in a similar way. Girls Varsity Hockey Coach, Brooke Fernandez, said: “In her honor, players were asked to leave their sticks outside of their front door or locker room each evening for Sarah.”
Ellia Chiang ’21, the girls’ varsity hockey assistant captain, added, “The tradition of ‘Sticks out for Sarah’ highlights the unity of the hockey community as we come together and pay respect for Sarah Duval.”
Therefore, throughout the hockey locker room halls, lines of ice hockey sticks have honorably placed in Sarah’s memory, with each stick representing a team member’s meaningful dedication to the fallen athlete.
Girls Varsity Hockey Captain, Lisa Ito-Bagshaw ’21, said, “For Sarah Duval last week, and for the many others like her who have lost their lives or have experienced life changing injuries, we, as integral parts of both the local community and the hockey community, felt that this simple gesture of placing our sticks outside the locker room would be a personal way to honor dedicated fellow athletes.”
Therefore, the simple action of lining halls with hockey sticks serves as a catalyst for students and athletes to share Sarah’s story.
Boys Varsity Hockey Captain, Will Holland ’21 explains, “[Placing our sticks along the hall] is a way to start a conversation about the events that took place. It is like a bridge which connects hockey players from on a local and even national scale to show how we are all one united group.” Not only are players paying their individual respects, but they are spreading Sarah’s story throughout the Deerfield community.
As Chiang ’21 plays her final senior season amidst a global pandemic, she said, “This tradition is also a reminder to support our teammates and other players in the community. Especially now when things are so unpredictable, it’s important to remember that every moment on the ice is special and should be cherished. We never know when our last game is, so we should always be grateful to be on the ice and playing.”
A global pandemic is no hindrance to Deerfield hockey’s ability to celebrate Sarah’s legacy in a meaningful way. Keri Clougherty ’21, the girls’ varsity hockey assistant captain mentioned, “With this pandemic it may seem more difficult to show support for something, but even with the pandemic restrictions, this act shows how close the hockey community is and makes it more special.” Holland similarly, added, “Since physically going and meeting [Sarah’s] family isn’t possible, this is a way to pay our respects.”
Clougherty ’21, continued, “The act of putting our sticks outside our locker room goes such a long way and represents that hockey is more than just a sport and shows the camaraderie of the entire hockey community.” Ms. Fernandez, continued Clougherty’s idea, “[The hockey community] is a small and close-knit community; when something happens to one program, it happens to all of us.”
The display of honor reinforces the quintessential qualities of Deerfield athletics: honor, respect, and teamwork. The hockey teams’ meaningful homage proves that the profound connections between Deerfield’s athletes on the rink, field, or court, are just as strong as their connections to the sports community beyond the Deerfield Valley.
Below is the link to the GoFundMe for the Sarah Strong Foundation in Sarah’s memory: