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Stonington seniors will leave short on minutes, big on wisdom

Stonington — It runs afoul of what we're taught: that hard work begets tangible rewards. Rewards that are necessary and deserved. But what happens when it doesn't? What happens when you do all the work — in this case attend all the practices, do all the drills, make everyone else around you better — and your butt still remains affixed to the bench?

And so while this is the story of Summer Wojtas and Holly Bousquet, this is also the story of all their sisters and brothers who have endured similar anguish. They're all fodder for an episode of Dr. Phil:

When Seniors Don't Play.

Wojtas and Bousquet are senior girls' basketball players at Stonington High. It is Senior Night for them on Tuesday night. Their careers are approaching the 18th green, about to end much the way they started. Without much fanfare. The kids who don't play. But work their ascots off nonetheless.

"Every single day, I think about what it would have been like if I just didn't do it," Wojtas was saying after practice one day last week. "I wonder what I could have done differently in the beginning to make it easier now. It's the hardest thing, knowing you come to practice every day and it's not going to affect anything."

Bousquet: "For me, the hardest part was 'what is the point?' You work this hard. What I've learned is that I'm doing more than just basketball when I come to practice. I'm establishing relationships with all kinds of different people. But getting to this point was hard."

Neither Bousquet nor Wojtas would be blamed if they quit. Or pouted. Or walked around with a sense of entitlement, flipping the world the old one-digit salute. But this is what strikes you about them. They're certainly not singing showtunes over their plight, yet they've remained great teammates. They've chosen positive. They've chosen happy.

They have no idea, most likely, that they've embraced the most important lesson high school sports teach. Think about it: Playing a team sport requires you to negotiate different personalities, different people with different goals and ideas, all for some greater good. Team sports, after all the group hugs and spaghetti dinners, are awash in personal rivalries, moral judgments and festering impatience.

In team sports, not everyone is treated equally. Not everyone's effort is the same. Some get to shoot, some have to set screens. It's not fair. Hard work's reward is abstract sometimes.

Sounds a lot like real life, no?

"A lot of people did quit. A big thing for me is to make it better for the other girls," Wojtas said. "There are other girls that are going to be just like me when they're seniors. They just don't know it yet. What I try to do is to make it as fun as possible. On the bench, we have some funny routines. It makes you feel better making it fun for yourself and other people."

Bousquet: "It's kind of like a 'why not?' Why not work hard? We made the decision not to quit. So why not try your best for them, if not for us."

Now you know why Stonington coach Paulla Solar calls this one of her favorite teams ever.

"Holly and Summer are the reason why you coach," Solar said. "They come to practice every day, work hard and never — never — complain. They make the other kids work harder and are always willing to help. It's really amazing. It comes from their upbringing. They just really are about the team. I'm happy they stayed. They bring leadership. The kids absolutely adore both of them. They bring more positive energy to the gym."

Solar has won hundreds of games and two state championships. She knows how to run a program. It's not all rainbows and lollipops. Sometimes, you play younger players for purposes of their development, a later benefit to the program. Except try telling seniors that. Or their parents.

"We learn a lot of life lessons here. That's a big thing for coach Solar," Wojtas said. "What basketball has taught me is to advocate for yourself and make sure other people respect you. I'll be able to help my own kids if they ever go through this. But I've also made sure my parents have never interfered in this at all. That's wrong."

(Does anyone else feel like hitting the pause button to momentarily weep tears of joy?)

"Hard work may not show up in minutes," Bousquet said, "but you learn that if you don't see the reward right away, you know it's coming one day. As a parent, I'll be able to understand. I get it. I went through this. I can tell them, 'I know it's hard, but you're going to get through it.'"

They've not only endured. They have prevailed. They leave short on minutes, big on wisdom.

"I feel for Summer and Holly," Solar said. "I think as a coach you always want your players involved and when that's not happening, it's not a good feeling. As a coach, you do what you think you need to do. But it's tough, especially when they're great kids."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

Twitter: @BCgenius

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