Teacher, coach, mom ... champion

West Haven

This is an excerpt from the poem that Liz Sutman read occasionally to the kids who would become champs:

"It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll; I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

Note to the softball players of Waterford High, the brand new Class M state champs: The woman who reads "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley, isn't the mere narrator to you. She is the protagonist. She personifies the message.

The message that the framers were pretty serious about the "pursuit of happiness" part, too, after "life" and "liberty." The pursuit of your own happiness, bereft of anyone else's perceptions or expectations.

Here is a detail about Sutman, who celebrated her third state championship Sunday at West Haven High: She is a Harvard graduate. It's just that she's not one to pull a Sinatra about such a detail and start spreadin' the news.

"She always says, 'I went to school in Boston,'" her husband, Heston, said Sunday.

"Sometimes, I think she's almost embarrassed to say it," her mother, Kathy, said later.

And that is because the name "Harvard" stands for an unmatched level of educational transcendence. It also carries an encumbrance of expectation that doesn't quite jive with Sutman's vocations: mom, teacher, coach.

"She had a bunch of roommates and they're all doctors. Pediatricians, dermatologists. They're all in hospitals," Kathy Walker said. "They knew what they wanted to do as soon as they got into school. I think her acceptance into Harvard was such a surprise. She was really counting on Boston College. That's where she wanted to go. But you don't say no to Harvard."

Kathy Walker hadn't yet completed that sentence when a roar ensued behind her. Liz Sutman had just jumped a fence - all this and some hops, too, apparently - and was running toward her players Sunday who were celebrating their 6-3 win over Granby on the adjacent football field at West Haven.

Sutman, temporarily done with media interviews, found herself awash in spasms of bear hugs, making merry with her players. The long, strange trip was over. Just the coach and her girls. With the hardware.

That's when Kathy Walker, watching her daughter beam, said quite eloquently, "There's nothing better than that."

No, there is not. Forget the unfettered joy for a minute. There's nothing better because Liz Sutman stayed true to herself and to her dreams. She could have pursued a more Harvard-ian career. She could be a captain of industry, cancer-curer, surgeon.

But would she have four sons and a husband?

Would she have her girls?

Would she have Dave Sousa, her athletic director, carrying her bags, as Dave did after Sunday's game?

Would she have a happy life?

This just in: There is nobody on this earth with a happier life than Elizabeth Walker Sutman. She is the Harvard of moms and the Harvard of coaches.

"She's perfect. I love her. Everyone loves her," said catcher Elaina Sullivan, who is among the board members of Lancer Nation when she's not winning championships.

Sullivan managed a wry grin upon learning that her coach hears the line, "you went to Harvard and you're only a teacher?"

"Look at her," Sullivan said. "She's so happy. I'm pretty sure she's all set with her life."

Sutman's life is her husband, children and hundreds and hundreds of girls she's influenced by being Liz. She doesn't just read them "Invictus." She lives it for them.

"I had the best experience of my life (at Harvard)," Sutman said. "I feel like now I'm sharing those experiences with my children. And I get to spend my days with some amazing girls. I have a great gig. When the boys were home from school, I would play wiffle ball by day and go to softball in the afternoon. It's the greatest job in the world."

Liz Sutman's pursuit of happiness never did come from the Harvard manual. It was right there in "Invictus" all along. She is the master of her fate. The captain of her soul. She is teacher, coach and mom. And now a champion again.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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