At Old Lyme, there’s a cooperative spirit
The most longstanding cooperative team at Old Lyme High School is football, which has combined with fellow Shoreline Conference member Valley Regional since 2006.
Jacob Rand, a current senior at Old Lyme, is one of the captains for Valley/Old Lyme. To get to practice, he takes the bus every day from Old Lyme to Valley, following in the footsteps of his brother Jeremy, who also played for the team. The combined Valley/Old Lyme team won a state championship in 2014, beating state power Ansonia 21-20 for the Class S-Large title.
“It’s just normal to go to practice,” Jacob Rand, a running back/outside linebacker, said recently of the idea of a co-op. “My brother played for Valley before me. It wasn’t hard for me.”
Field hockey is the newest cooperative team for Old Lyme, which is in its second season pairing with Westbrook. That co-op came about, interestingly, with Westbrook low on numbers a year ago. Longtime Westbrook head field hockey coach Janet Dickey coached Old Lyme athletic director Hildie Heck as part of the program when Heck was a student.
Heck summoned some of Old Lyme’s girls’ lacrosse players who she knew didn’t play a fall sport and asked them if they’d like to be a part of a field hockey co-op.
This season, Old Lyme senior Kylie Dishaw is a co-captain for Westbrook/Old Lyme, which now has 11 Old Lyme players and enough of a combined roster to split between varsity and junior varsity, with numbers having grown thanks to the partnership between the members of what they now refer to as the Wild Knights (a mash-up of Old Lyme’s Wildcats nickname and Westbrook’s White Knights).
Old Lyme has six cooperative teams overall, three in the fall with football, field hockey and swimming and three in the winter with fencing, boys’ hockey and girls’ hockey.
It’s a testament to Heck, the athletic director since 2015, who hardly ever turns down a request if one of the Old Lyme students wants to compete in a sport not already offered.
“I do have to say, our superintendent (Ian Neviaser) is super supportive of that, too,” Heck said. “He would like every kid in the school to be doing a sport. I can go to him, ‘So, hey, I want to send 10 kids to so and so, so they can do this,’ and he’ll say, ‘Let’s figure it out.’
“I feel like we’ve pretty much always figured it out.”
“I think it’s great when we have our home games,” Rand said. “The student section has kids from both schools. At our game (last Friday), a lot of my friends were at North Branford. People don’t think of it as Valley football. They think of it as Old Lyme football and Valley football.”
Rand said he didn’t know some of the Old Lyme’s co-ops existed.
“I didn’t know we had a hockey team. This year I found out about field hockey when I saw a post about the field hockey team,” he said. “I think it’s very unique. Our school’s connected. We have our own sports for our school but it seems very easy to go play for another school.”
Old Lyme junior Sydney Doboe remembers that on her first day as a member of the Old Saybrook/Old Lyme/Valley Regional swimming co-op last year, the bus didn’t get her to practice on time at East Lyme High School.
Likewise, the field hockey players from Old Lyme had never played field hockey before.
But while first days can be good for inducing anxiety, the Old Lyme athletes haven’t had to worry about integrating themselves with their new teammates since then.
“All the girls had written in chalk on the dugout and on the ground, ‘Welcome, Old Lyme girls,’” Dishaw said of her first day practicing at Westbrook. “They literally took the first four days to teach us everything. I think it was just a very welcoming experience.
“I got so many more girls to play this year because I’m like, ‘If you’re not doing a fall sport, come play field hockey and it’ll be fun. The environment is so great here. I think it’s really fun. We have a whole new group of friends. I would say (the best part is) just having the team. It’s a bunch of new people. The coaches are so inclusive. It’s just such a positive experience. I love everything. There’s never a negative time.”
Dickey, in her 33rd season, called the Old Lyme players quick learners and said they were “eager and interested and enthusiastic.”
Dickey said that making Dishaw a captain this season was an easy decision.
“Her leadership qualities were phenomenal,” Dickey said. “She coordinates them all. I think she has Bella (Ziegler) checking them on to the bus (at Old Lyme) and she gets the report before she drives over here. She’s very good at that. She’s disciplined. When she sees people that aren’t paying attention or need a little bit of a nudge, she’s not afraid to give it to them, which is a unique quality.”
Dishaw, a forward, is speaking to college coaches about continuing her career.
“They blended in well last year and they do this year,” Dickey said. “The blend-in feels comfortable for them. They feel like a giant team.”
Doboe is one of only two swimmers representing Old Lyme this year along with freshman Rose Dimmock. Their swimming co-op occupies two lanes at East Lyme, while the Vikings have the others.
Sometimes, said Doboe, who switched to swimming after six years of cross country due to problems with her knees, the teams combine their practices.
The Old Saybrook/Old Lyme/Valley coach is former Norwich Free Academy standout Emma Buckridge. Doboe said with a laugh that Buckridge always has some sort of caffeine with her.
“She’s great, a lot of energy,” said Doboe, a breaststroke specialist. “It’s a nice change of pace from school where everyone’s dragging and stuff. She’s a very good coach with her techniques and drills, she comes up with stuff that’s fun. Everyone gets along great. It’s nice to know people from other schools.”
It seems to be the consensus with Old Lyme’s athletes which participate in co-ops: There is no “us vs. them” mentality on the squads.
Phil Cohen, who teaches at Old Lyme, formerly played for the Valley/Old Lyme co-op under longtime coach Tim King and now is a member of the coaching staff under head coach Hill Gbunblee.
Cohen has nothing but fond memories, recalling that teammates from both schools used to get together at his house for “Sunday Fun Day,” watch the NFL games and eat an inordinate amount of food.
“The program gave me so much,” Cohen said. “I learned so many life lessons. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the program. It’s great that students from Old Lyme that want to play football have that program.”
Cohen credits Heck for continuing to foster an atmosphere of cooperation surrounding athletics at Old Lyme.
“Hildie is amazing. She really is,” Cohen said. “The definition of loving your job, waking up in the morning and doing what you love, that’s Hildie.”
“We’re a small league. You get to know people really well,” Heck said. “It’s amazing, being from the Shoreline, a lot of the kids know each other anyway. It’s a closer knit group. ... We have a lot going on.”