Amidst a pandemic that keeps throwing curveballs at seemingly every turn, the two captains of this year’s Mount St. Charles girls tennis team understood that an internal approach would have to carry the day in order to keep an important cause alive.
If “Pass the Plate” was going to collect nonperishable items and donate them to a soup kitchen for a sixth year, the onus fell on the program to step up to the proverbial plate.
“We figured we would go about it as normally as possible and encourage our teammates to bring in canned goods,” said MSC senior Marykate Tillinghast. “This is definitely something we wanted to continue.”
The final tally – just north of 300 food products that were passed along to the food pantry at St. Patrick’s Church located in Harrisville – revealed that the message conveyed by Tillinghast and fellow senior captain Piper O’Connell did not fall on deaf ears.
“Telling our teammates … they were so in agreement with the captains. They really wanted to continue this tradition because it means a lot to our team,” said O’Connell.
In non-COVID times, Mount tennis head coach Richard Lawrence would ask his captains to reach out to opposing teams and ask if they would be willing to participate in “Pass the Plate” when the time came for them to make the trek to the Mounties’ home court in Woonsocket. A four-year varsity member, O’Connell has been an eyewitness to many instances where a generous spirit has been displayed by fellow R.I. Interscholastic League members – athletes dropping a can into the designated basket or coaches making a monetary contribution to the soup kitchen.
In 2020, Mount St. Charles undertook the task of securing the food themselves. With Tillinghast and O’Connell setting the tone, the team proved more than willing to double their efforts to ensure that there wouldn’t be a shortfall compared to past donations. They lived up to Lawrence’s simple yet straightforward directive.
“Be creative,” said Tillinghast, who helped set the tempo with daily text messages to remind her teammates to try to bring something to every practice and match.
“Of course the girls went above and beyond and brought in three or four. It was really cool to see how excited they were about it,” said Tillinghast.
Also a teacher at Mount as well as the school’s former athletic director, Lawrence never hesitates to draw upon his fundamental beliefs whenever a teachable moment for his athletes presents itself. He also knows that it’s incumbent upon the players – particularly the captains – to make sure they take the lead and carry out the particulars.
The proof lies in the high volume of food articles that was secured under the stewardship of Tillinghast and O’Connell.
“I don’t think if these two captains weren’t as persistent … that’s how you get things done. That’s leadership,” said Lawrence. “They ended up becoming leaders in a program that will make the holidays a different experience for some of the more needy families in our area.”
Among teammates, the two captains admitted there was a healthy competition to see who could amass the most goods. One Mount player donated an entire case of chicken soup.
“It was, ‘Bring what’s easiest and accessible for you,’” said O’Connell. “There was a good variety.”
Traditionally, “Pass the Plate” has been an in-season endeavor. With assistance from others, the number of edible products accrued as a helping hand to an important cause, ranges in the neighborhood of 150-200.
Understanding that adjustments needed to be made in the wake of the current climate, the Mounties started the process during the summer when optional workouts were held. Once it was learned in early September that a girls tennis season was definitely going to happen, the stakes were raised considerably.
“I felt that the conversation was easy based on the group of girls we have. We have amazing teammates,” said O’Connell. “We didn’t have to really push them to bring in cans. They just started doing it on their own and it built up over time.”
Added Tillinghast, “I give full credit to our teammates. There’s literally no way we could have done this much without their participation.”
This past Monday, a representative from St. Patrick’s Church came to Mount St. Charles to haul away a hefty sum of nonperishable items – a sum resulting from teammates banding together.
“They were pushing this program. That’s why we had a great collection of food,” said Lawrence.
“I’m really proud. This is such a huge accomplishment,” said O’Connell, her words ringing extra true with Thanksgiving quickly approaching. “It was not only just, ‘Oh, Mount St. Charles does this every year so we have to do it.’ We wanted to do it to keep this important legacy going. As captains, that was important to us.”