Tomorrow night I’ll meet BIll at The Hanger after work for our annual appearance at the UMass athletic department Christmas party. It will pretty much be the same as every other one I’ve attended, with one sad exception. This summer, our beloved softball coach, Elaine Sortino, passed away after a courageous two-year battle with cancer. Four months later, I still can’t quite believe she’s gone, and it’s going to be strange walking into The Hanger and not seeing her right in the middle of things, playing cards and having a good time.
Everyone knew who Elaine was, even if they (like me) didn’t know her that well. She had coached for 34 years at UMass, leading our softball team to almost 1200 wins, 23 conference titles, 21 NCAA tournament appearances and 3 college world series appearances. What really struck me though, after reading the many online tributes from her players and colleagues, is how she inspired so many young women on and off the field with her strength, determintation and fierce passion. She was more than just a coach to a generation of women who have themselves gone on to achieve greatness in their own ways. She was their mentor, a mother figure and a friend long after they graduated. As someone who has had ties to the athletic department for thirteen years, I feel I can speak for Bill’s colleagues when I say that she was a member of our family, too, and her passing has had a profound affect on so many within the UMass Amherst community.
How you face death is at least as important as how you live your life, and Elaine did both with grace and dignity. She has made me acutely aware of the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I hope I am to others. Bill told me a couple of months ago that it left a hole in his heart to walk past her office and not see her there, and I feel the same way when I’m walking on campus and pass the softball diamond. I have no doubt that she’ll be with us tomorrow night. I’ll raise a toast to her and dedicate “Blue Christmas” to her memory, but above all else, I’ll try my best to carry her example with me everyday. Thank you, Elaine, for being someone we could admire without reservation, and for teaching us the importance of truly embracing life. UMass pride forever!