By David Yarger and Matthew Morris
For most new high school athletes, the thought of even playing a high school sport can, at first, be very daunting. Merely making the team is a difficult enough challenge, then from there on one must prove they can deliver when needed and be a team player. For the ones who succeed at this challenge and stick with their programs, one day they reach the top. That is, the top of the hierarchy that is high school athletics. Being a senior atop a high school squad is something that every high school athlete in that position earns as a result of dedication.
"It's very weird to think that this is my last season playing," said Jerri Ann Orfano of Niagara Falls High School softball. "But looking back on it, it's a great feeling to know that I've accomplished a lot and worked hard."
Since she joined NFHS softball, Orfano has been one of the team's MVPs, including her junior season when she batted .516 with 28 RBI. Jerri Ann plans to come to Niagara University in the fall of 2015 as a member of the school's Division I softball team. She has learned many lessons along the road to the top of her team, many of which she will carry over with her this time around.
"I'll definitely be going over with an open mind ... it can affect a lot," she said.
There is much more beyond this that comes with being a senior on a high school team. One cannot just look ahead to what comes next, but is responsible for setting the tone of the team he or she now leads and also provide an example for younger players who are just coming into the fold.
Taylor Huntsman, who, in his junior year batted .310 with 11 RBI for NFHS's baseball team, places a very high importance on this.
"It's cool to be a leader and serve as a role model to the underclassmen," Huntsman said. "I tell the younger guys to work as hard as they can and always listen to their leaders and coaches, because they are there to help you and want to see you improve. I believe a leader must be a model that others can feed off of."
Senior year also brings along stressful times when trying to manage senior activities, athletics and academics all at once. Filling out college applications and scholarships give seniors restless nights.
Both seniors agreed that once adjusted to it, it isn't difficult to manage it all. Orfano added, "There are days when you have a full plate and feel like you'll never be able to get anything done, but when you do finish, you feel incredible."
As senior student-athletes, underclassmen look up to the seniors and follow their lead. This adds a little more pressure to a senior's role. Being a role model is an important aspect to being a senior and it's not easy to do.
"I tell them to play the game as hard as possible," Hunstman said. "I do see myself as a role model to these underclassmen, because I believe that as a leader there must be a model factor in which others can feed off of."
Orfano added, "I do feel like I am a role model, because I've worked so hard to get where I am today and I'm proud of that and I feel others can feed off of my hard work."
Senior year is the grand finale to a career and it wraps up relationships between teammates and coaches that end after the final whistle, but will never end off the field. Orfano and Huntsman both agreed they have made relationships they will carry with them for their entire life.
"I've made some lifelong friends playing softball. And they say everything happens for a reason, so thanks to me playing softball, I know I have people in my life that will be sticking around after high school," Orfano said.
"My relationships with coaches, current and past teammates have been nothing short of great," Huntsman said. "They have all been there for me when I struggled and gave me advice and I couldn't be more grateful."
Although it is sad to see it come to an end, they both say they have had the greatest memories while being a senior student-athlete and are looking forward to the memories they'll gather in future endeavors.