WESTFIELD – For more than two decades, White Oak School athletic director/coach Joanne Daley has been teaching student-athletes that there truly is no “I” in “TEAM”.
Daley has been the inspirational force that drives White Oak’s sporting life.
More than 10 years ago, Daley, a Westfield resident, created the sports program at White Oak school, helping transform fourth graders on up to high schoolers hamstrung by dyslexia and other serious learning disabilities reach their full potential as gifted athletes.
About six years ago, Daley helped form the River Valley Athletic League, currently a 13-team league comprised primarily of small schools from Western Massachusetts that stress quality of play and sportsmanship for the benefit of high school-aged student-athletes.
Daley serves, not only as White Oak’s athletic director performing various functions as scheduling and transportation issues, but also coaches soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee and golf.
“The kids love being part of a team,” Daley said. “They love fighting just to get to the playoffs.”
Daley said that while nearly every team qualifies for the postseason, fielding a full roster of players has been the biggest challenge.
“We’re more of a recreational program,” Daley admitted, noting that during one recent soccer season the team gutted out some games without a full lineup.
“We don’t have the luxury of pulling students from all over the United States like some other schools,” she said. “Our goal is to have our students learn a skill they never had before and learn sportsmanship … Our players are here just to have fun and learn that you don’t have to pick fights.”
Daley’s message has resonated with the student body.
Over the last six years, White Oak has won five sportsmanship awards (soccer, 2011; cross country, 2013; basketball, 2014, ’15; ultimate Frisbee, 2015).
“It’s not just about winning with Ms. Daley,” White Oak senior John Dostal said. Dostal played soccer and ultimate Frisbee his junior year before quitting to focus fully on Brazilian jiu-jitsu. “It’s about teamwork and learning the sport. She coaches in a way that makes it fun, and pushes you to do your best … and be respectful.”
White Oak junior Camden Kelly agrees.
“In football (at Easthampton High), I was used to playing with mostly athletic kids,” said Kelly, who also played baseball at Hampshire Regional. He now devotes all of his time to the sport of basketball (2014-15, ’15-’16) at White Oak. “I have learned patience, and how to be respectful here.”
The White Oak coach is helping elevate bodies, raise spirits, and change minds every day.
“Ms. Daley challenges us,” said sophomore Leo Maurer, a two-year soccer and one-year ultimate Frisbee player. “I’m not much of a people person but she has taught me how to work with other people and communicate with them … Sports has been a tool for me to work on communication, respect, and family.”
Daley has even gone so far as to provide rides home to her students like Maurer, who have transportation issues and would not be able to participate otherwise.
“It’s not so much just about sports,” said White Oak Head of Admissions Alexandra Sutter. “Joanne teaches kids about life, kindness, gentleness, and respect … She helps our students deal with the difficulties of life, and uses this school as the vehicle to teach character and education.”
Daley has even consoled students like Jack Neves, who father passed away suddenly.
“This was a terrible and dark time in my life,” Neves said. “I was sad and confused, but coach Daley was there for me. She would take me to play golf, which was something that my father and I always did together. Coach Daley‘s mother passed away at the same time, so she really understood what I was going through. I don’t know what I would have done without her at that time in my life.”
Said Sutter: “Daley uses sports as a tool to encourage academic growth, independence, and responsibility. She recognizes that sports can be a powerful tool to inspire a deeper commitment to education. Coaching was never an activity she participated in for the glory or the income, quite the contrary. She is in it for the outcome. Watching students use athletics transform themselves into strong, confident, successful young adults is a joy for all of us at the school.”
White Oak School is part of the Massachusetts Association of 776 Approved Private Schools, a non-profit association that represents 85 private special education schools across the state, many of which are also employing strong athletic programs to reach students with learning, behavioral, cognitive, physical, and emotional difficulties.