just before the holiday break, seventh and eighth graders at Simsbury's Henry
James Memorial School (HJMS) look forward to engaging in some friendly
competition with each other as well as with the faculty in a final showdown on
the volleyball court. But this year, the HJMS Volleyball Classic on Dec. 20 was missing one of its biggest fans, Patty-Lou Peters, who served 18 years
as assistant principal before losing her battle with breast cancer this past
Peters' presence was felt in every corner of the gym. Dozens of pink ribbons were posted on the walls, with their messages of awareness and hope. Peters' family, husband Jim, and daughter Hanna, had front row seats to cheer on the teams, who wore pink "Volley for the Cure" t-shirts, socks, armbands, and pins to increase breast cancer awareness.
Principal Brian White, in his welcoming remarks to the crowd, underscored the special importance of this year's Volleyball Classic. Said White, "This is a time to be together, celebrate together, and have a good time. This is one of the activities [Patty-Lou] really loved."
On this day, the HJMS gym looked like any other lively school sporting event, with pounding music, colorful banners, hearty cheers, and outbreaks of “the wave,” but the students weren’t forgetting that this year, it wasn’t all just for fun. Rather, it was an opportunity for community service in support of a cause that affected someone they really knew and cared about. School Counseling Coordinator Bridget Annulli commented that so many of these middle school students had an exceptional attitude toward community service. Said Annulli, “Many of these students already have experience with cancer awareness events like Race for the Cure.”
The annual event, held at the conclusion of the physical education unit on volleyball, was certainly a charity event, as the students and faculty collected funds to help fight breast cancer, but some pretty fierce competition was also apparent, especially when it came to the student versus faculty playoff. When Assistant Principal Jeffrey Pinney was asked whether or not he'd be taking it easy on the kids, especially since the teachers lost the morning round to the seventh graders, he responded diplomatically as a professional educator, "We have specific ideas about winning and earning a win."
But, reflecting the undeniable spirit of competition, teammate and Security Resource Officer Todd Kushman added, with a wide grin and a nod to the volleyball court, "Out there it's not a charity event!"
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter to anyone which team won or lost. What mattered was that the HJMS school community was able to score a few points against breast cancer in memory of Patty-Lou Peters.