Joined by her mother, Sarah (left) and Gilford coach Joan Forge, Golden Eagle senior Ella Harris signs her Letter of Intent to play softball at UMass-Lowell next year during a ceremony last Thursday in the Gilford cafeteria. (Photo by Joshua Spaulding) (click for larger version)
November 19, 2020GILFORD — Joan Forge has been coaching softball since 1978 and in all that time, has never had a player make a commitment to a Division I college to continue her softball career.
Until now, that is.
Last Thursday afternoon, in front of a small gathering of family, friends and coaches in the Gilford High School cafeteria, Ella Harris signed her National Letter of Intent to play softball for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
For Harris, going to UMass-Lowell has been something that's been at the top of her list for a long time, noting she went to a camp at the school when she was in seventh grade.
"I fell in love with the team and the coaches and the campus," Harris said. "They were pretty much always my top choice."
In addition to her pitching duties for the Gilford Golden Eagles, Harris also plays for Rip City USA, a team based out of Salisbury, Mass., which means she has spent a lot of time traveling around the Eastern Seaboard for tournaments, though this year the team stayed local due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harris, the daughter of Sarah and Will Harris, said she is looking forward to being part of the River Hawk family.
"I am looking forward to being in that family," she said. "I am excited to be in that community."
The Gilford senior noted that she is planning on pursuing a degree in public health and is also excited about that portion of her upcoming collegiate experience.
Last Thursday's ceremony started with a few words from Gilford Athletics Director Rick Acquilano.
"It's always a privilege when we get to support one of our own and recognizing their accomplishment," Acquilano said. "We know that behind all this there is family, a support system, a ton of grit and a lot of work.
"She will always be a Golden Eagle to us," he added.
Joan Forge, who coaches the Gilford softball team in addition to coaching volleyball at Plymouth State, noted it is an incredible honor to coach Harris and pointed out that aforementioned fact that she has never had a Division I softball player in more than 40 years coaching the sport.
"This is really impressive," Forge said. "It's an incredible accomplishment and it couldn't have happened to a better person."
The Gilford coach pointed out that Harris is the ultimate teammate and is always able to keep winning and losing in perspective, which isn't always an easy thing to do. She also was quick to add that in addition to being a stellar pitcher, Harris is also a versatile player, leading the team in batting average as a freshman and picking the team motto of "fearless" in her sophomore year. And after last season was cancelled due to the pandemic, Forge is looking forward to one more year with Harris.
"I am hoping things will happen so she can have a banner senior year," Forge said. "UMass-Lowell is very fortunate to have you."
Rick Forge, who has served as Gilford's assistant coach and as a pitching coach for Harris and the rest of the staff, also took a few moments to honor Harris. He noted that he has been coaching softball since 1975 and this is only the fourth player that he has seen go on to play Division I softball.
"I watched every one of those players, I know what it took for those players to get to Division I," Rick Forge stated. "It is a tribute to you that you're being offered this opportunity and it is well-deserved."
He noted that pitching can be a lonely job, as it takes a lot of time put in outside of the game to excel at the position.
"Not everybody can do it," Rick Forge said. "Making that commitment, that long journey, and now it's all coming to fruition. It speaks volumes that you have embraced the sport of softball and the position of pitcher."
Rick Forge noted that Harris is a great teammate and more importantly, a good person.
"I am honored to have had the opportunity to be a small part of your career," he stated.
Sarah Harris, who joined her daughter at the signing ceremony, noted that her dad, Will, was working in the Midwest and decided against traveling during the pandemic, but they were both excited for their daughter.
"He wanted to, but he can't be here," Sarah Harris said. "He's a big part of her story too."
As for Ella Harris, she's excited about her upcoming senior year of softball at Gilford, no matter what it might be like.
"I am really looking forward to being a captain," she said. "I think I've always been somewhat of a leader, but I am excited to play a major role in leading the team this year."
Sports Editor Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.