It was on December 15 when members of the Haddam-Killingworth field hockey family gathered in one of the school’s classrooms to hear what the program’s founder and mentor had to say.
A month before, Patsy Kamercia had guided the Cougars to their fourth state championship title and most assumed that the Hall of Fame coach was going to announce her retirement. She had flirted with the idea when she retired from teaching in 2011. She had built an iconic program, a perennial Shoreline Conference and state championship contender, and one that she ultimately wasn’t ready to step away from.
Instead of a retirement announcement, Kamercia shared some stunning news with the Cougars players, parents, and select alumni.
She had cancer. A rare form of cancer. One with no cure.
It’s called myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm unclassifiable disorder (MDS/MPN-UC), a group of diseases in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells.
Kamercia was diagnosed before the Cougars season began. She chose not to tell her team until the season was long over.
“I give her a lot of credit for keeping it under wraps,” Haddam-Killingworth baseball coach Mark Brookes said. “It just shows you the dedication she has to the sport and who she thinks of first. She’s thinking of the kids and for her to make an announcement when she first discovered it would have been a huge distraction. She’s thinking about the kids and their season and all the things that she has to do that she’s done with all the other teams she’s ever put together. It’s extremely unselfish.”
Like Kamercia, Brookes has been coaching at Haddam-Killingworth for 40 years. His baseball program also a model of consistency and winning that area coaches have often tried to emulate.
Brookes and his wife, Raye, raised four daughters, all of whom played field hockey for the Cougars. Tessa Brookes is a field hockey official, while her younger sister, Nara, went on to play and coach field hockey at the collegiate level.
“Patsy has had a profound effect on our four kids and as a family we never forget that,” Brookes said. “She served as a good example and has throughout the years for all the kids she’s coached.”
The Connecticut field hockey community is a very tight knit group. Coaches like Babby Nuhn at North Branford, Kitty Palmer at Guilford, Cathy McGuirk at Branford, Janet Dickey at Westbrook, Kamercia and a host of others throughout the state (like Cookie Bromage at Enfield) have been teaching life lessons through field hockey for many, many years.
“It’s a very collegial sport,” said Ann Anderson, who is the Cougars scorekeeper and “unofficial” assistant coach. “Everyone, from the coaches to the referees, is really invested in it.”
Anderson’s four daughters – Emily, Kiley, Brinley and Molly – have all been integral members of the H-K program. Emily scored the game-winning goal in the Cougars’ overtime upset over North Branford in the 2010 state semifinals, Kiley played on H-K’s 2012 state championship team, and Brinley scored the Cougars’ goal, with an assist from Molly, in this year’s Class S co-championship against Westbrook.
“Patsy has a way of making things so family-oriented,” Anderson said. “There are traditions that she has carried along, like the big sister-little sister relationship that all the kids have. It’s very special.”
Kamercia has a tough fight ahead. She needs a bone marrow transplant. Children can provide a 50 percent match for this disease and Patsy’s son, Tripp, will be her initial donor.
A “Be the Match Drive” committee has set up a bone marrow drive registry that will take place today (Saturday, Jan. 7) at Haddam-Killingworth High School from 10 a.m.to 2 p.m. There will be local vendors at the drive.
The committee has also started a youcaring.com page. The fund has already raised over $9,000 dollars for Kamerica’s medical expenses while she undergoes outpatient treatment over the next four months at Sloan Kettering in New York.
Kamercia has an unbridled passion and enthusiasm for life – she started taking tap dancing lessons this year – and her aim is to be on the sidelines again in September, coaching another season and enjoying her three favorite days: the Cougars’ annual Carrie Ness Memorial Alumni game, Senior Day, and the team’s year-end banquet.
“She’s one of a kind,” Anderson added. “My kids always say she’s a ‘force.’ Brinley or Molly will come home from practice or a game and call Kiley and tell her about some anecdote that happened and Kiley will just say, ‘She’s a force.’ Patsy has a lot of energy. And she’ll attack this latest challenge with that level of energy.”
The Haddam-Killingworth boys basketball team played at Portland High School on Tuesday night. The game’s proceeds were donated to Kamercia’s youcaring.com page. It was just one of a number of ways people are letting Patsy Kamercia know that they’re thinking, praying and rooting for her.
“She’s got so much support from other teams,” Anderson said. “She has one son, Tripp, but she has hundreds of daughters who have come through the program who always support and give back. No matter where the alumni scatter to or what they’re doing in their career, they all have a special place in their heart for coach.”
For more information on becoming a potential bone marrow donor, go to www.bethematch.org., or for donations, go to https://www.youcaring.com/patsykamercia-718439