Mount Holyoke lacrosse team pays it forward — and reaps unexpected return
By Gena Mangiaratti
Reprinted with permission from the April 15, 2014, Daily Hampshire Gazette
SOUTH HADLEY — It’s difficult for the captains of the Mount Holyoke College lacrosse team to explain why they cleaned up a mess they did not make while waiting for a flight at Bradley International Airport to spring training.
The team was headed to West Palm Beach, Fla., for its annual spring training trip last month when another team waiting in the same area left water bottles, sodas, fast food bags and other trash behind, recalled Mount Holyoke head lacrosse coach Miriam Esber.
“My team had kind of one second of, ‘That’s ridiculous. I can’t believe they would do that,’ and quickly kind of went from that to saying, ‘We should pick that up. We shouldn’t just leave it there,’ ” she said.
That thoughtful act caught the attention of a man sitting nearby, who then approached the team members, Esber said. He expressed his disappointment in the group that left the trash and commended the Mount Holyoke team for their response, she added.
The man turned out to be a chief information officer of a global insurance company, who later emailed Esber requesting contact information for college administrators so he could make a connection with the career center, she said.
He told her that, “Given the choice to hire someone from Mount Holyoke and another school, he would right away choose the Mount Holyoke student,” Esber said.
The anecdote generated a buzz on the college’s Facebook page, where the story received over 1,200 likes, was shared 147 times, and received several positive comments from parents, former Mount Holyoke lacrosse players and other followers of the page.
But during a recent group interview in the lobby of the Kendall Sports and Dance Complex with Esber and her three captains, who are all psychology majors, they said the act was spontaneous — and that they had not expected such a response.
“It’s one of those things that’s hard to talk about because it’s just like, natural to us,” said captain Kirsten Kilburn, 20, a junior from North Branford, Conn. “It’s great that this happened and that we’re getting stories and stuff like that, we’re going to continue doing this without expecting to get these stories.”
Of the 18 members of the team, everyone who was in the area at the time helped with the cleanup, the captains recalled. Because so many people pitched in, it took about five minutes to complete the job.
“It didn’t matter if someone was watching,” added captain Brianne Phelan, 22, a senior from Quincy. “Someone was going to have to deal with it later and that wasn’t fair to them.”
Captain Naomi Miller, 22, a senior from Augusta, Maine, credits Esber’s leadership for maintaining these standards among the team members each year.
“It’s weird because every year the team kind of feels so different because there’s this group of seniors that graduate, but we have the same moral high standards,” Miller said.
Esber, who is in her seventh year of coaching the lacrosse team, said that at the beginning of each season, one of the team expectations she lays down is to leave every location cleaner than how they found it. She points out that team members represent the college wherever they go.
“They represent more than just themselves, whether it’s on the field or off the field,” Esber said.
The team members say they remain close off the field. They eat dinner together in the dining halls after practices — moving tables together so they can all sit “family style” — Kilburn said, and get together on Friday nights before Saturday games. They similarly spend time together during the off-season, she added.
“When you’re with people six days a week for more than two hours a day and you’re doing something you genuinely love, you end up making these connections,” Kilburn said. She gestured to her co-captains. “These are my two best friends in the entire world, and it just kind of happened that way.”
The chief information officer who reached Mount Holyoke was contacted, but declined to comment or allow his name to be used, citing a company policy on speaking to media.
Esber said she feels the story had such a ripple effect on social media because it is a good representation of Mount Holyoke.
“I think that’s how Mount Holyoke students are,” she said. “They’re just good people and they take care of the world around them.”