by Andrew Garda
It’s rare for people to talk about a month-old high school soccer game. After tournaments end and a season is over, students, parents and administrators move on to the next sport and mostly look back at the biggest wins and losses, if they look back at all.
Yet, Montclair High School’s boys soccer 4-3 Essex County tournament win over Irvington High School surfaced again anyway, though not in the way one would expect.
On Nov. 18 — exactly a month after the two schools met in the ECT — Irvington athletic director John Taylor Tweeted out a thank you to an anonymous Montclair parent who had sent a letter to the Irvington boys soccer team and school along with a $500 gift card.
“Please pass this on to your boys’ soccer team. They conducted themselves like gentlemen at the game vs. Montclair. They lost, but could have easily won. They are polite, kind, well-spoken young men, as are their coaches. I was impressed and I hope all of Irvington is proud of them. Please use this to treat them to a fun team celebration — they deserve it! I wish them all well in the future,” the letter read.
There was no signature, just the letter and a gift certificate for Acme Supermarket.
Taylor had been called down to his principal’s office to retrieve the letter, but neither person knew what was inside. They opened it together and were speechless.
“Like I said on Twitter, you just don’t see that from parents of opposing teams. Who gives the opposing team a $500 gift card so you can have an end of the year team celebration and say ‘you guys deserve this,’ you know?” Taylor said on a recent phone call. “You don’t see that.”
Taylor recalled that while disappointed by the loss, the Blue Knights held their heads up after pushing the Mounties — who were on their way to an ECT championship and an 18-1-2 record — as hard as anyone all season.
“The players… weren’t yelling at the refs or anything,” he said of the loss to Montclair. “They shook their hands, and we met afterwards and I feel like we took a lot from that game.”
Among the positives came a top seed in the Group 3 NJSIAA Tournament. While the Blue Knights fell in the quarter-final round, Taylor said it was still a very tremendous season for the program.
“I think people in the conference will tell you, Irvington, we don’t have the greatest boys soccer history in the world, at least compared to Montclair. But we felt going into the season we had a legitimate shot to do some really good things once it came to tournament time.”
Now they can celebrate that great season with a few extra cupcakes due to the gift card.
As Irvington is a public school, the gift card is considered a donation and had to be approved by the Board of Education, which it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. With that done, Taylor turned it over to the team and so they could finish deciding what to do with it.
Taylor said that the entire program was surprised by the letter, the gift card and the overall gesture, but that he felt it was an important lesson as well.
“I told some of the kids when I first found out we got it, I just reiterated the old adage that the character of somebody – or in this case a team – really comes out when you don’t realize anybody is watching,” he said. “And obviously we weren’t expecting that and obviously somebody took notice.”
Taylor feels that message even resonates in the way the letter came to Irvington High School.
“The parent didn’t put a return address on the envelope,” he said. “They didn’t sign the letter, they didn’t identify themselves in any way. So they didn’t want us to know who it was, and they didn’t need the praise and the thank yous and stuff. And that kind of threw me back too, because a lot of times you see people who are very giving, and that’s awesome, but they want people to know they are giving. And if you’re giving that way, you deserve all the accolades in the world. But in this case, it was a completely selfless act and they didn’t want anything else.”
As Taylor told the players, sometimes character shines through most brightly when you don’t realize people are watching or, as in this case, you do it where nobody can see you.