Under the bright lights of the TV studio at Eastern Regional High School, 31 student-athletes were recognized for having committed to their college or university of choice to compete in a variety of sports.
As the district has done for quite some time on the first Wednesday of February, these Eastern Vikings, while surrounded by family, friends, coaches and teammates, celebrated their next voyage and eventual departure from high school.
Vice Principal of Athletics and Student Activities Steve Picot commended the athletes as they prepared to take part in the Eastern tradition.
“As a coach myself for 17 years, I know you guys have spent countless hours training, running, at practice, on the field, in the pool, on the court to get to this point,” Picot said. “You guys are student-athletes that have put yourself above it and worked toward this goal, so I want to commend you for working for your achievement.
“So many student-athletes work, but they don’t understand what it takes to get to that next level. You obviously do because you’re here today,” Picot added.
Furthermore, Picot also thanked the students’ parents and family members in attendance for supporting the athletes over the past nearly two decades, with all of that work paying off in the form of a college acceptance letter and open arms to a team they hope to play for in college.
“For the parents… you have spent countless hours and sacrificed for your child,” Picot said. “You spent hours in a car, on a field, on a court, at a pool just to cheer your child on so that they could get to this moment. You’ve sacrificed time and money so that your child could achieve their goal; I’m blown away by that and that’s an inspiration to me as a parent.”
From California to New Jersey and many states in between, these 31 student-athletes joined the list of hundreds of Eastern graduates to have gone on to the next level to compete in college after playing on Eastern’s baseball, track and field, soccer, field hockey, swimming, cross country, lacrosse and football teams.
Currently in his first year as superintendent, Robert Cloutier said the feeling of watching student-athletes from the district make it to the next level is inspiring.
“The word that keeps going through my head is joy; it’s a joyous occasion,” Cloutier said. “These student-athletes are being recognized for their amazing achievements as students and as athletes in front of parents and coaches… it’s just a wonderful day.”
While much of the emphasis across National Signing Day often seems to be about what student plays what sport and to what college they are going, Cloutier says what should always be highlighted is, of course, the “student” aspect of student-athlete, to which this batch of students meets the mark.
“Our students are just dedicated in every aspect of being successful, through schoolwork and through competition,” Cloutier said.
Of the 21 student-athletes to make commitments to D-I and D-II schools, nine have signed to play field hockey at the next level. These field hockey players were among the last batch of Vikings to play under longtime coach Danyle Heilig, who recently announced her retirement.
Having helped establish a prestigious program that draws attention across the country, she said the group was a great class to watch graduate during her last year at Eastern.
“It’s a very large and accomplished senior class for sure,” Heilig said. “It’s exciting to participate in this every year. It demonstrates all of the hard work they’ve put in and all the opportunities that are provided to them through this hard work.”
According to Heilig, she hadn’t thought about retiring with a particular class or leaving at the same time as an accomplished class over the years; it was simply about leaving “when it was time” for her and her family.
However, having made her decision, she says this final class of nine are a great group to be leaving Eastern with.
“Knowing that I’m leaving with them is exciting because they are a really good group of girls that have contributed immensely to the success of this program,” Heilig said.