By Mike Bracken, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – After the Shrewsbury High School (SHS) JV softball team beat Leominster 4-0 May 24 in their season finale, cheers and high-fives were quickly replaced by sadness and tears, as the game marked the final one for longtime JV head coach Paula Toti.? Toti, a physical education teacher at SHS, decided that this would be her last year coaching so she could devote her time and leadership to the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant that was recently awarded to Shrewsbury.
The grant will be used to implement comprehensive, integrated physical activity and nutrition programs for the students.
Toti has been a fixture in the SHS softball program for over a decade, serving as the JV softball coach for the past 12 years.? She and varsity head coach, Phil Chevalier, first met 11 years ago during Chevalier's interview for the varsity head coach job; Toti was part of the search committee. The two have worked together to build Shrewsbury into a high school softball powerhouse, highlighted by winning the Division 1 State Championship in 2006.
“Paula has been like my right arm?for 11 years,” Chevalier said.? “She knows the game, and she has the girls” best interests at heart.?She has been such an asset for the softball program Each year after the JV season is over, she joins the varsity team to help us coach the team through the playoffs, and I will miss her as a coach.”
This year's JV squad was dominant once again under Toti's tutelage, posting an impressive 15-4 record. The team consisted of a mix of talented freshman and sophomores who were honored to be able to play for Toti in her final season.
“Toti truly cares about each and every one of us, both as a team and as individuals,” said freshman centerfielder Kelli Bracken.?”We all loved playing for her.?She taught us that we should never give up on our goals and dreams and that we should sacrifice everything we have for our teammates and ourselves. We dedicated this season to her.”
The respect and admiration for Toti extends to her former players as well. Jenna Maksian, senior co-captain of the varsity team, played for Toti for two seasons and had a great experience with her.
“Toti's one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Maksian said. “She has taught me to always fight for what I want. She taught me that it's important to always believe in yourself, and to have self-confidence.? If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Another former player, 2006 SHS graduate Melissa Sereti, who went on to play softball at Roger Williams University, made a special effort to be at Toti's last game.
Sereti said, “Toti has been an inspiration to keep working harder for something you would like to achieve, which for me was playing on a collegiate team. Hearing her cheer you on from third base was one of the best moments I had when I played for her for three years. I hope she knows how much knowledge and kindness she has spread to all the girls that she has coached.”
Toti will also be stepping down from her post as JV field hockey coach, where she has been equally successful for the past 12 years. While she will be missed as a highly regarded and beloved coach at the high school, she will continue to have a positive impact on students as a physical education teacher. Toti will undoubtedly also make an important contribution to the community with her involvement in the PEP grant. And, at some point, maybe she will return to coaching.