Imagine 40 years gone by, but respect and, moreover, love remain undiminished.
Imagine kids, always willing to go the extra mile on the playing field, now, firmly planted in middle age, going many hundreds of miles to embrace the warmth of a sweet memory.
To embrace a woman who brought them smiles and laughter well before she delivered them a Section 1 championship and an undefeated season.
Nine players from Fox Lane’s 1976 field hockey team returned last weekend to be with their coach.
Joanne St. George is 82. But, going strong, she joked and reminisced Saturday night during a dinner for her at Mardino’s restaurant in Mount Kisco. That followed breakfast at the Mount Kisco Diner with her former players, former Fox Lane athletic director Rod Mergardt and good friend and former John Jay volleyball coach Missi Larzelere. Those events sandwiched an afternoon watching the current Fox Lane team, coached by former St. George player Kim Gigante, shut out Carmel.
That is, after St. George delivered a pep talk.
St. George, whose fans at the field included former players/former Fox Lane coaches Heather Miller and Beth Staropoli (the current Fox Lane AD), wore a silver field hockey necklace.
Her former players unabashedly wore their hearts on their sleeves.
St. George was born in Mount Kisco and still lives there. But her players joined her from homes as far away as Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Emily Kohnstamm Beal, who lives in Massachusetts, wanted to honor the woman who inspired her and the others.
In a sense, it was her late brother Ken’s idea.
Ken, a 1964 Fox Lane graduate, died in 2013 of pancreatic cancer. Beforehand, he gave his sister a gift – a few words of perspective.
If there’s someone you’ve ever loved, he said, you need to stay in touch.
That thought pushed Kohnstamm Beal to the phone and to the coach she said she probably thinks of every day.
“There was lots of love and teamwork and lots of great memories,” she said of that time.
Now there are even more.
The Kelly triplets – Katherine, now of South Carolina, and Holly and Tara of Tennessee – came up.
Holly teaches and also coaches lacrosse at Farragut High in Knoxville.
“I only dream to have the impact and influence she had on her students and players,” she said.
The group compiled a memory book for St. George with a photo of her from 40 years ago on its cover. Inside, all nine players, including Anne Gilson of Virginia, Suzanne “Suzy” Behr of Oklahoma, Kate Fissell of Pennsylvania, Leslie Costa of Connecticut and Claire Pulise Birney of Pennsylvania, have a page of 1976 photos of themselves and another for photos from today with their families and friends. Each also penned a personal note to St. George.
“It set me back a little bit,” St. George admitted.
They also gave her a plaque that speaks of her instilling values in them to “become champions in life.”
“Your love, inspiration and coaching live on in each of us,” the plaque reads.
“She had a kindness. She really was different. You really felt she wanted the best for all her kids,” Fissell said.
Behr remembered St. George’s “fairness” – her working to get everyone playing time.
“She won with great grace,” said Holly Kelly, one of four players from the team to play college field hockey, no minor feat in 1976 or, for that matter, any time.
But St. George, who retired from teaching physical education in 1993 but continued coaching until 2005, also had fun then, singing those goofy songs bus rides ignite in teenage girls.
Saturday night, before attending church the next morning with six players and then going to brunch, where 1976 teammate Marilyn Salvati and Staropoli joined the group, St. George grinned as a waiter, bearing a cake, serenaded and kissed her.
Her players said they loved her. She said she loved them, too, and they had made her life fun.
“You don’t realize what you do when you’re doing it,” St. George said. “I’m just happy they feel the way they do.”
And the way they do was made very clear.
“She’s everything that’s good in sports,” Behr said.