Final score didn’t matter, Portsmouth team’s gesture did

Newtown High School girls' soccer team captains (from left) Tess Murray, Anna Northrop and Lindsey Jagoe shake hands with Portsmouth captains Jessica Kaufman and Leah Hibbad before their match at Roger Williams University Saturday night. Newtown High School girls' soccer team captains (from left) Tess Murray, Anna Northrop and Lindsey Jagoe shake hands with Portsmouth captains Jessica Kaufman and Leah Hibbad before their match at Roger Williams University Saturday night.

Newtown High School girls' soccer team captains (from left) Tess Murray, Anna Northrop and Lindsey Jagoe shake hands with Portsmouth captains Jessica Kaufman and Leah Hibbad before their match at Roger Williams University Saturday night.

Newtown High School girls’ soccer team captains (from left) Tess Murray, Anna Northrop and Lindsey Jagoe shake hands with Portsmouth captains Jessica Kaufman and Leah Hibbad before their match at Roger Williams University Saturday night.

BRISTOL — When the last whistle was blown Saturday night, the Newtown High School girls’ soccer team had defeated Portsmouth High by a score of 2-1.

The outcome of the game was hardly the focus, however. This was about one team reaching out to a wounded community.

The exhibition game, held at Roger Williams University (RWU) in Bristol, was set up by PHS girls’ soccer coach Jim Blaess in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012.

“My wife is a teacher and I’m surrounded by teachers, so when that happened it hits home a little bit,” said Mr. Blaess. “I just had an idea of a charitable game.”

Mr. Blaess went on to contact the athletic director of Newtown High School, who put him in touch with the girls’ soccer coach, Marc Kenney. The two men worked together to plan the exhibition match, which RWU immediately agreed to host.

Portsmouth's Hannah Taylor and a Newtown player both jump to head a goal kick.

Portsmouth’s Hannah Taylor and a Newtown player both jump to head a goal kick.

“There was a lot of community support,” said Mr. Blaess. “The inn at Newport donated free rooms and we have some tourist event in Newport for (the Newtown team). Everything just came together really easy and here we are.”

Although it was a friendly game for charity, the game was competitive because of the high quality of both teams. PHS took a 1-0 lead into half time after a rocket of a shot from outside the 18-yard box by junior Natalie Yaw in the 12th minute. Newtown came back to take a 2-1 lead on goals from junior Brenna Kelly and senior Kerry Scallon and eventually won the game.

“It was so great,” said Lindsey Jagoe, senior captain for Newtown, commenting on PHS’s gesture. “The whole experience, we are just so thankful. It’s a really great thing for them to reach out to our community.”

Another one of the positive aspects of this event was the money raised by Portsmouth for the Newtown International Center for Education, a parent and community organization that supports teacher scholarships and professional development to bring resources to their classrooms.

“So far we are at about $2,500,” said Mr. Blaess. “Our goal is $5,000, so hopefully we get there.”

Anyone who would like to contribute to the donation should make a check out to the PHS Athletic Boosters Club and write “Newtown Soccer” in the subject line. The mailing address is PHS Athletic Boosters Club, PO Box 438, Portsmouth, RI 02871. Contributions are tax-exempt donations (the tax ID number is 46-0578959.)

When asked how the Newtown community is coping less than a year after the mass school shooting, Miss Jagoe said, “We are doing well. Ever since the tragedy of Sandy Hook, our town has come together a lot. A lot of people have reached out to us.”

Added Mr. Blaess, “Hopefully the girls get a positive experience out of it. That’s really what we want. We just wanted to turn something that was tragic into a positive experience for them and show them a good time.”

Check out a gallery of photos from the game by Richard W. Dionne below.

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