Kelsey Byrd is an Island Fellow, a participant in a two-year service program operated by AmeriCorps and the Island Institute, doing community development work on islands and remote coastal communities.
When I first moved to Vinalhaven a year and half ago, I was excited to help coach the high school girls basketball team. However, my excitement was met with some hesitation on the part of the community.
High school basketball is an essential part of island winters. Many times the stands are filled with people representing four generations, some of whom don’t even have family on the team. The community becomes very invested in their teams and sometimes that can lead to conflict, hence the hesitation from many people I told about wanting to be a part of the basketball team.
They were worried about my experience with the team being challenging one. And while there have been moments of controversy in my two years with the team, coaching has been nothing but a pleasure.
Sports have always played an important part in my life, and I can confidently say that I have many of my coaches to thank for who I am and where I am today. They pushed me to my limits, showed me that hard work pays off, helped me develop as a leader and most of all, they ingrained in me the importance of people.
At times it is easy to let the controversies that arise from basketball overshadow the incredible growth that is happening in these girls every day. These girls are being pushed, rising to the challenge and learning something about themselves, their teammates, and their incredible ability. I believe that as a coach you can help students grow in confidence and learn how to persevere in a way that makes them better people on and off the court.
While I am very proud of the run we made in the state tournament—beating the No. 8 team on their home court and then going to Augusta and beating the No. 1 team after being down 14 points with 7 minutes left in the game—it is not the final score that makes me proud. I am proud of the girls for not giving up. I am proud of the hard work they put in every day at practice. I am proud of all the girls making honor roll. I am proud of the way they carry themselves after a hard loss or an exhilarating win.
So I am proud of their perseverance, hard work, dedication to studies, and humility—all traits and attributes that make them better people. At times, high school basketball can be blown out of perspective and overrun with negativity, but when I stop and look at this team, I am reminded of the importance of sports and the opportunity they present to learn and grow into the best version of one’s self.
People ask me what I am going to miss about living on Vinalhaven after my fellowship ends this summer, and while I will miss the beautiful scenery, the people I work with, and the lively community events, these girls take the prize.