Valley field hockey loses an icon


Longtime coach and teacher Deryl Fleming passes away after battle with cancer



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COACH DERYL FLEMING holds the Class I runner-up trophy aloft after her team came up just short in last year’s Class I finals. Fleming passed away on Friday after a battle with cancer. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
August 24, 2009
CONWAY — The Mount Washington Valley lost a longtime friend on Friday, Aug. 21, when Kennett field hockey coach and John Fuller School physical education teacher Deryl Fleming succumbed to cancer.

Fleming, who for many years was the JV field hockey coach at the high school, stepped into the role as the varsity coach last season at the last minute and promptly guided her team all the way to the Class I finals in Bedford.

"That's a testament to Deryl and what she's capable of doing," said Kennett athletic director Kerry Brady, who herself served as one of the team's field hockey coaches alongside Fleming in previous seasons. "She took over and brought the girls all the way to runners-up."

Fleming's familiarity with the girls on her team probably made her ascension to the varsity job an easier transition for everyone involved. She had served as the JV field hockey coach for many seasons, patrolling the sidelines with former head coach Kelly Locke and for years had run a field hockey camp for youngsters through the North Conway Community Center.

"Deryl was like a staple of field hockey here for many years," Brady noted. "Field hockey was her passion.

"I have had the pleasure to work with Deryl Fleming for the last five years," Brady pointed out. "When I first met Deryl she was the JV field hockey coach with aspirations to become the varsity field hockey coach. The first thing I learned about Deryl is that she loved coaching because of her desire to play an active role in so many athletes' lives. Deryl had an overwhelming amount of pride and passion for the sport of field hockey and players whom she coached."

Brady noted that Fleming played field hockey for many years, then officiated as long as her health would let her and was instrumental in helping to build the sport into what it is at Kennett.

"Deryl did everything she could do to help make field hockey such a strong sport around here," Brady noted.

Last year, after taking the job prior to the summer break, Fleming led her team to a 13-1 record over the course of the season. The team won its first five games and after enduring its first loss on Sept. 24, rattled off eight more wins in a row to finish off the regular season.

The Eagles allowed only six goals the entire season and headed into the Class I playoffs, where they advanced all the way to the state finals before falling to Merrimack Valley, the only team to defeat them all season long.

Brady pointed to Fleming's courage as one of the biggest things kids were able to take away from their experiences playing for the longtime coach, noting that everyone who played for her learned something.

"The kids have learned so many things from Deryl, mainly because of her courage over the years," Brady said. "We at Kennett High School had the chance to observe Deryl in many sports related activities. Whether she was teaching, coaching, officiating or just watching as a fan, she conducted herself with great dignity and a wonderful sense of humor. It was clear how much she cared about students."

Fleming's death occurred just five days into the 2009 field hockey season. The team began practice on Monday, Aug. 17, and is slated to play its first game on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at Plymouth.

The school board was expected to meet on Monday, Aug. 24, where a candidate would be nominated to fill Fleming's coaching spot for the remainder of the season.

Kennett graduate Laurel Smith, a teacher at the school and the coach of the alpine ski team and the JV softball team had been working with Ivy Spencer-Ward, who was the assistant coach of last year's team filling in for Fleming.

"Laurel teaches here and has been around the kids as alpine ski coach and JV softball coach," Brady said. "Ivy was there last year and is a familiar face on the sidelines.

"They've been working really well together to try and fill Deryl's shoes," Brady continued.

However, anyone who has been part of field hockey in the Mount Washington Valley as a player, fan, coach or parent can surely attest that those shoes will be almost impossible to fill. The loss of Deryl Fleming will certainly leave a hole in the community that is Kennett High School sports.

"The last five years Deryl had not only been battling the ups and downs of a field hockey season but she had been fighting cancer that was determined to take her away from our community far sooner than it actually did," Brady noted. "She was a role model for every one of her players who learned from Deryl that if you believe in something, you fight to the end. Her former students, players and the Kennett community were very lucky to have had Deryl Fleming and will miss her greatly."

A celebration of Fleming's life was scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 27, at the field hockey field on the school campus in Redstone.

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