Valedictorian and athlete O’Neill recalls on support from island community

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 11:00am

The following was written by Journal Sports Writer Bill Koch of the Providence Journal:

Moira O’Neill started doing the math long before she was a freshman.

There would be enough girls to field teams in volleyball, basketball and softball by the time she finished her last four years at Block Island School.

This is far from an annual guarantee in a place where the total enrollment from kindergarten through 12th grade is less than 150 students. But O’Neill happened to come of age in something of a golden generation for the Hurricanes, one that took them into the ranks of the championship contenders in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.

“We’re not the team that’s competitive against each other,” O’Neill said. “We’re not fighting for spots or building animosity against teammates to get more playing time. We want everyone to play.”

That’s exactly what O’Neill and her teammates did throughout her high school years — quite well, in fact. The highlight came in November, as the Hurricanes chased their first RIIL championship of any kind. St. Raphael ultimately came away with a victory in the Division III girls volleyball final, but it’s the show of community support at Rhode Island College on that afternoon that O’Neill will take away.

“Looking back, it’s pretty crazy we were able to get to that point,” O’Neill said. “In the moment, it was just sort of natural.”

Hurricanes fans jammed the Murray Center despite what was guaranteed to be a two-day commute. Ferry schedules to and from the island are cut considerably outside of the peak summer season, forcing an extended stay in and around Providence. That fact wasn’t lost on Block Island’s players as they took the court against the Saints.

“That’s not just a 10-minute drive from our town,” O’Neill said. “That’s an hour ferry ride and hundreds of dollars spent to support us. I think that really showed.”

This spring would have included a final softball season for O’Neill. The Hurricanes reached the Division III semifinals in both 2017 and 2018, going a combined 23-6 in the regular season. Block Island hasn’t posted double-digit wins in any other RIIL campaign outside of those two.

“You’ve never thrown a softball before? That doesn’t matter,” O’Neill said. “We want you to learn the game.”

The coronavirus pandemic has taken that chance from O’Neill and the rest of the state’s athletes. There are legitimate concerns in the community about how severely this will affect the town’s robust travel and tourism industry. O’Neill works during the summer months at The Oar, which is normally a haven for clam chowder, lobster rolls and mudslides.

“I think everyone is going to do their best to work as hard and make as much money as they can,” O’Neill said. “I think people have a very realistic mindset and they’re going to do everything they can.”

O’Neill plans to leave the island for college this fall — the senior class valedictorian is headed for Elon University in North Carolina. She’ll be one of roughly 1,500 students in the freshman class, a considerable change compared to her academic experience thus far. Her life to date — both in the classroom and with her teammates — has O’Neill prepared to meet the challenge.

“I know that I’ve literally been raised by a community,” O’Neill said. “I know that coming back here, seeing all these faces once I come back from college — these people helped me become who I am today. They helped me become the athlete I am today.

“I really don’t know where I would be without them.”

Link to the Providence Journal article: