As Laney Clement-Holbrook was evolving, and then starring, as a four-sport athlete at Dedham High, she often wondered why girls’ teams played in the afternoon rather than at night, why their practice times were shorter than the boys’ teams, why they played six-on-six basketball, and why they wore dresses — complete with bloomers — as part of the uniform.
The answers were simple, and always the same: because she was a girl.
As the keynote speaker at the MIAA’s Girls and Women in Sports Day celebration held at Faneuil Hall on Friday, Clement-Holbrook recognized how far the world of women’s athletics has come.
“I am so very grateful for getting a chance to make my passion my profession for the past 45 years,” said Clement-Holbrook, who entered Friday’s Hockomock League basketball matchup against Mansfield with 699 wins, the most in state history for a girls’ coach.
“As hard as it has been, I would never have done it any other way. I am grateful for all that was done, not just for me, but for all of you. I hope I’ve inspired you to be grateful for the gifts that you have been given, and to continue to value the experiences that sport has given you today, but more importantly how these experiences will help you, as well as others, in the future.”
In front of nearly 300 student-athletes representing 142 MIAA member schools, Clement-Holbrook shared the principles that have guided her through her historic career: 1. “Make your moments matter.” 2. “Preparation is the key to success.” 3. “For the good of the group.” 4. “Pay it forward.”
With the first principle, she took time to honor Christine Loeber, who played basketball for Clement-Holbrook at Oliver Ames and later worked as executive director of the Pathway House in Yountville, Calif., a home for male veterans. She was killed in a shooting at the Pathway House in 2018.
“She made her moments matter,” recalled Clement-Holbrook. “It was my responsibility to make my team aware of the power of this moment.”
At the 2017 McDonald’s All-American game, Clement-Holbrook directed the East squad to an overtime victory. Tasked with leading a group of players she had never met, she spent the plane ride from Boston to Chicago learning the faces of her players, their schools, and where they would attend college. When she greeted every player personally, they were shocked.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” Clement-Holbrook said. “As a result, I got the buy-in from every single player. This little old lady from Massachusetts was there to help them enjoy and be successful in one of their shining moments in their basketball lives.”
A year ago, Erin Holmberg, a three-sport athlete at OA, was sidelined when doctors discovered a benign tumor in her spine. As Clement-Holbrook watched her players rally around their teammate — even sneaking into Boston Children’s Hospital to deliver mental and physical support with stuffed animals — she thought of her third guiding pillar.
“You as athletes need to embody that principle,” Clement-Holbrook said to the Faneuil Hall crowd, which included Holmberg, who has returned to captain the basketball team as a senior this season. “When you and your teammates do, the sky is the limit. Whatever it takes, it’s not about me. It’s about we.”
Clement-Holbrook, who played basketball and softball at Bridgewater State College (Class of 1975), also thanked those who have inspired her and allowed her to be successful — particularly her late father, Wendell, who would let her practice with her brother Wayne’s football team.
Wayne Clement, who died of cancer at age 42, was posthumously inducted into the athletic Hall of Fame at Dedham High (Laney and her father were members of the first class of inductees); Clement-Holbrook accepted the award on his behalf. Old teammates of Wayne attended the ceremony to support her.
“Those were the boys that were my role models,” Clement-Holbrook said. “I didn’t have female athletes like you have as role models. Our role models were boys.
“I had to take the time to thank them for doing that. They were there to help us fund-raise and set aside money so [Wayne’s sons] could go to college.
“When that chance to pay it forward happens, embrace it.”
Clement-Holbrook received a standing ovation for her keynote address.
Westborough High athletic director Johanna DiCarlo presented four women with Massachusetts Women in Athletics Distinguished Service Awards: Mohawk Trail field hockey coach Lynn Anderson, Watertown field hockey coach Eileen Donahue, Silver Lake athletic director Martha Jamieson, and Mansfield field hockey and multisport coach Theresa Nyhan.
Also honored were Massachusetts medalists from the 2019 National Senior Games.
Lorelei Marcell, a junior at Lexington, sang the national anthem before the school’s AD, Naomi Martin, opened the event, and Advanced Math and Science Academy senior Anna Litteer, co-chair of the MIAA Student Advisory Committee, addressed the crowd. Lincoln-Sudbury field hockey coach Vicky Caburian read a gubernatorial proclamation declaring Feb. 7, 2020, as Girls and Women in Sports Day in Massachusetts.
Jenna Ciccotelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.