CLAREMONT — Although the bright lights hung high above local ballfields remained off due to a lack of high school spring sporting events, the community still found something for local graduating student-athletes to cheer about.

On two separate nights this past week, Stevens High School Baseball Head Coach Paul Silva and Softball Head Coach Melissa Nichols greeted graduating senior athletes part of the baseball and softball teams along with close friends and family to fields lined with handmade signs and defined by heartfelt speeches in a way to recognize the devotion of students whose love for the game transcends even the most challenging of times.

The idea to host a “Senior Night” for their athletes in the wake of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic that caused their seasons to end was a no-brainer to both coaches whose only wish was to provide them and their families with one last hoorah before commencement.

“We just knew we had to do something,” Nichols said at the baseball team’s “Senior Night’ on Thursday. “We have to honor these [student-athletes] because they worked so hard for all these years and they didn’t get to play their final season. We appreciate everything they have done and we miss not seeing them play and getting all those ‘lasts’ in. The last time you play Newport, the last time you play Fall Mountain, your last home game, your last tournament game. There’s so many things. [‘Senior Night’] didn’t seem like much but I hope it meant a lot to them. I wish we could have done more.”

Silva echoed the fellow coach’s sentiments, emphasizing that a “Senior Night” was the least the athletic department could do to celebrate those who so honorably showcased the school’s signature black and red.

“I feel so bad not just for the senior players but for all the seniors graduating and all spring senior athletes who lost out on their final season. When you have coached these kids — in multiple sports in my case — it is always a difficult time when it’s the end of the season but Melissa and I were determined to do something for them and when you see the smiles on their faces I hope that we have done a little something to make it special for them.”

For Nichols, the spring season is always difficult to traverse as athletes who have grown to become leaders on and off the field prepare to move on to their next great adventure. But, with the current restrictions and limitations placed on us all that has directly affected high school sports across the county and the world, this year hits a bit different.

“It’s sad to know what they have lost,” Nichols said. “All the kids, whether they are seniors or not because they have all lost a year of their high school career. It can seem like it is just softball or baseball but it is much more than that. This is a part of their history that they have just lost out on and you can’t do anything about it.”

Nichols continued: “We are always a big part of the mixture of senior activities at the end of their senior year because they have all of these things in their fall sport, or if they play a winter sport, but this is it. This is finality for them. So I think it hits them a little harder sometimes because it is final.”

On Monday, Ellee Grenier, along with Amber Barry and Tanner Brown, were able to be with fellow teammates and friends as their coach shared her feelings when it comes to saying goodbye. For Ellee, the experience was both profound and a bit shocking as it marked the end of her career playing for Nichols.

“Playing for Claremont was a really fun experience,” Ellee said. “Softball is my favorite sport.”

Ellee will be attending Plymouth State University in the fall studying public health while Amber and Tanner will be attending Colby-Sawyer College and enroll in the institution’s nursing program.

Tyler Bonneau and Alex Taylor reflected on what Thursday’s “Senior Night” at Barnes Park and their experience as a Stevens High School Cardinal meant to them.

“It’s really nice to be able to come back just as a final goodbye and see fellow seniors who also missed out,” Alex said. “Baseball has been my favorite throughout high school. It was the best four years of my life. I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else.”

“Baseball is pretty much everything for me so it’s just nice to come back together and meet up with everyone,” Tyler said.

Tyler will be attending Franklin Pierce University for business while Alex will be attending La Salle University for exercise science.

Also honored on Thursday were senior student-athletes Michael Gaspar and Charles Richardson.

If one thing is clear amid these uncertain times, it is that both coaches believe that their graduating athletes will use what they practiced on the field in their pursuit to make a difference in the world.

“They are all good kids and they will get through this and go on and do great things,” echoed Nichols and Silva.

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