By Jeff Moriarty
Special to the Herald
This is a story of a journey through youth sports with my daughter, Emma Moriarty. Born with cerebral palsy and wheelchair bound, Emma could not participate in sports along with her peers. So we became fans instead. Along the way we saw incredible athletic performances, and we witnessed many outstanding young people mature into the quality adults they are today. And making it even more special, three have gone on to national prominence.
It all started at Mary Farmar Elementary. Emma was in the special class, and a group of kids would hang out before school with Emma and her classmates. Jeremy Padrones was among them. I wanted to take Emma to see Benicia Little League, and it just so happened that Jeremy was on the 10-year-old All Star team in 2004. Also on that very good team were Austin Carr and Jake Payne. Emma and I parked behind home plate and watched Jeremy pitch a gem. Austin stood out with his speed on the base path, and Jake was an all-around player. That group of players went on to have success as 11 and 12-year-olds as well, and we enjoyed traveling to the out-of-town diamonds to cheer on our local team.
Fast forward to high school. For his Eagle Scout project, Jake designed the new baseball field at BHS. Jake made the seating completely accessible for wheelchairs, and I understand that Jake’s observation of Emma at baseball games influenced him. So we were able to watch some great baseball at BHS thanks to Jake.
During his sophomore year, I read in the Herald that Austin was on the varsity football team and scored a touchdown. So the next year I took Emma to watch BHS football. Austin is the fastest and best high school football player I have ever seen. What a pleasure it was to watch him shatter the BHS football records over the next two seasons. I am acquainted with Austin, and I was pleased when he told me of his decision to go to Northwestern as a walk-on over other lucrative offers. As Herald readers know, Austin led the Big Ten in receiving, and played in the East West Shrine game. We followed Northwestern football on Saturdays over the past few seasons. Austin’s character has been spoken of on the national telecasts. He has a bright future.
At Benicia Middle School, Juliet Farnsworth-Henry and Tasha Enos served as teacher’s aides in Emma’s special class. Tasha played softball, and we went to watch her play. Around that time, I read about Michelle Gascoigne in the Herald. I wanted to take Emma to watch Michelle and the BHS softball team, so we went to Community Park to watch Senior Day in 2009. Michelle is the best softball player I have ever seen. Not only was she striking out batters with ease, she also handled the bat well. Four years later, we watched her on ESPN as the winning pitcher in the 2013 NCAA championship game with the Oklahoma Sooners, and later as a pro with the Chicago Bandits. Like Austin, Michelle is at Northwestern – she is an assistant coach. Even though we saw her in person only once, what a treat it was.
In 2012 I heard of a great volleyball team at St. Patricks-St. Vincent, so I took Emma to see a new sport – and she loved it. On that team was the best high school volleyball player I have ever seen: junior Gabriel Domecus. Over the next two seasons, we went to many matches and watched SPSV win more championships. Herald readers know that Gabriel and the Ohio State Buckeyes won the NCAA crown last year, which we watched on ESPN, and they are favored to win another one again in this his senior season. The national team may be in his future.
Many people consider dance to be a sport as well as an art – young people train, build muscle, and compete. Emma and I went to every dance recital and dramatic arts show at BHS during Emma’s high school years. For Emma and me, dance performances were another great, fun athletic performance to watch. Juliet and Tasha both danced at BHS. Who could forget Juliet dancing rings around Austin in the Sugar Plum Fairy dance? Or Jeremy and Austin belting it out in “The Music Man”? Juliet and Jeremy were crowned Homecoming Queen and King! Today, Juliet is a professional dance instructor.
Youth sports are a wonderful way to build character and learn life skills. Emma and I were in the right place at the right time. Time passes by so quickly.
Jeff Moriarty has been a Benicia resident since 1993.