NEW BRITAIN - AJ Williams, Chris Cumba and Kenny Hemenway were looking forward to their final season playing baseball at Goodwin Tech. After all, there was plenty to be excited about.
Young and inexperienced last season, the Gladiators managed just one win in 2019 - the season finale. But with a good portion of the roster getting valuable varsity time, Goodwin Tech was optimistic 2020 presented a chance for the team to return to the state tournament.
The Gladiators, and specifically, Williams, Cumba and Hemenway, never got the chance to show it. The coronavirus pandemic had taken those things away from Goodwin Tech’s trio when the CIAC officially canceled its spring championships on April 23 and the rest of the season 12 days later.
“I really wanted to have that last season,” Williams said. “I wanted us to go out with a bang. We never got the chance to have a Senior Night or to be captain of the team. I wanted that. It kinda sucks, but you know the situation we’re in with the pandemic and stuff.”
While the three never got the chance to play their final high school season, their head coach, Joe Granja, and his assistants made sure the seniors were still recognized for all their hard work and dedication to the school’s baseball program. On Thursday afternoon, the three coaches made a trip to each of the senior’s homes and presented them with some gifts, including a personalized bat painted orange and black, the school colors, with the GT logo. Each one reading the student-athlete’s name along with 2020 for their graduation year.
“We just had to come up with something to honor these kids who had worked hard for us,” said Granja, who is also Goodwin Tech’s athletic director. “I talked it over with my assistant coaches and we decided to go over their houses and give them a few things, took a few pictures. We thought it would be something they would appreciate and they certainly did.”
It certainly meant a lot to Williams, Cumba and Hemenway, making Thursday’s surprise that much more special.
“What the coaches did for us yesterday was memorable,” Cumba said. “The coaches went out of their way and headed to our homes waving a Goodwin banner and giving us a customized wooden bat. It was a thoughtful gift and will hold a lot of sentimental value to me and I'm so grateful for what our coaches did for us.”
And while this spring hasn’t gone the way any member of the senior trio, or any other athlete in the state, could have imagined, there was still plenty to be thankful for and a number fond memories when looking back at their time donning the orange and black. Granja’s trip to each house was a reminder of that.
“Playing baseball at Goodwin Tech has given me so many wonderful moments,” Cumba said. “It provided the pressure, circumstances and environment that pushed me to grow, learn and change in so many ways. We always learned respect above all. It didn't make a difference if we were 10-0 or 0-10 you were taught to consistently show respect regardless of the situation.”
“It was like a family, it really was,” Williams said. “Everyone supported each other. We all looked up to each other on and off the field. I’m definitely going to miss that brotherhood.”
It was just as tough spring for Granja and his coaching staff, knowing their three players would never get the chance to have their final season of high school baseball. Yet they also wanted to make sure Williams, Cumba and Hemenway knew what they meant to the program.
“They’re just really, really good kids,” Granja said. “Hard working, respectful. It’s just sad their career had to end without their senior season, but I can’t say anything but what great young men they really are. Respected around the building, always willing to help out and I’m just very proud of them.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org