WINTHROP — The inevitability of tearful embraces did nothing to diminish the emotional impact of Winthrop High School remembering one of its own Wednesday.

The tears and the hugs began when the juniors on the field hockey team handed the home and road uniforms with Kelsey Stoneton’s No. 8 to her father, Joel, and mother, Kimberly, prior to the Ramblers’ season opener with Dirigo.

In a moving pre-game ceremony, Winthrop retired Kelsey Stoneton’s number and unveiled a corner of the scoreboard dedicated to her memory, 32 days after she died of a pulmonary embolism.

As Winthrop and Dirigo battled through a tight game, the tears and hugs continued on the sideline opposite the benches, among Stoneton’s family, friends and former teammates. Some were wearing t-shirts with “Just Smile” printed on the front and Stoneton’s number 8 or “Team Kels” printed on the back.

Field hockey served as a cathartic release for a community in mourning and a team anxious to have something tangible to help it deal with its grief and honor its captain’s memory.

Emily Molino scored the first goal of the season on a penalty shot less than seven minutes into the game and the Ramblers reacted like they won the state title. Goalie Corinna Coulton sprinted from her cage to midfield in record time to join the celebration.

Dirigo tied it before halftime and arguably out-played Winthrop throughout the second half until Sarah Spahr scored the game-winner with just under seven minutes left. Another celebration, albeit a little more subdued than what followed the first goal.

The 2-1 victory wasn’t so much a tribute to Stoneton, who would have been a junior this year, as the way in which the Ramblers procured it. They were far from their best, but they kept their heads up even as the Cougars carried the play and struck when they saw the slightest of openings.

The Ramblers are a young team. They will play a lot more nail-biters in the Mountain Valley Conference this season, and perhaps even lose a few. They will be on either side of a few blowouts. Fatigue and injuries will test their resolve, just like they will virtually every other high school team this fall.

Through it all, the Ramblers will have constant reminders of what they lost before the season began, and what they gained from knowing Kelsey.

“Kelsey is still very much a part of this team,” Winthrop coach Jessica Morrill said. “We will use her spirit to guide us through whatever hurdles are in our path. We will love the game like we loved her. And, most importantly, we will remember to smile, because that is what Kelsey would be doing right now.”

Whatever the season has in store for the Ramblers, whatever they make of it, this is their season. They will carry Kelsey Stoneton with them and continue to carry her with them the rest of their lives.

If Kelsey Stoneton’s death reminded us of anything, it is how precious this time in their lives is. They will grow from this season. They will take lessons from it. They will celebrate wins together and console each other after losses. They will form lasting bonds and make lasting memories.

Already, in just 32 days, thousands of words have been written about how the Winthrop field hockey team is dealing with their teammate’s death. The story went international almost overnight. Google “Kelsey Stoneton” and you’ll find stories from the New York Daily News, the Boston Globe and even a British tabloid, the Daily Mail.

If the Ramblers go deep into the playoffs, the media spotlight will get brighter, with TV crews joining the rush to tell the touching story of a team inspired by its fallen captain.

There’s nothing wrong with that at face value. The more people know about Kelsey Stoneton and how she touched so many in her life, the better. But sometimes in telling these kinds of stories, and sometimes in reading them, we forget about those who have to go on.

Win or lose, and whether the media’s gaze intensifies or turns elsewhere, please don’t lose sight of one fact — this is the players’ time. It is their season. Let them play it out. Let them take whatever inspiration they wish from Kelsey Stoneton and let them make her proud in their own way.

Let the rest of us stand back and watch them make their school and their town proud. And let’s just smile.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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