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Otter Valley dedicates its field to coach

BRANDON — Some people have said it was long overdue, but everyone agrees that Friday’s dedication of the Otter Valley softball field to longtime coach Patty Candon was just right.
More than 100 fans, parents, students, friends and family members attended the dedication on a gusty afternoon, but the gray skies did not overshadow the jubilant mood. There were hugs all around as current and former players and fellow coaches congratulated Candon on a legacy of sportsmanship and respect.
Just before the ceremony, former players Lisa (Greeno) Bessette of Pittsford and Heather (Eugair) LaPorte of Brandon presented Candon with a bouquet of flowers and big hugs.
Bessette played left field and LaPorte was the first baseman on Candon’s 1995 Division II championship team. Bessette wore her championship jacket, which she proudly said still fit. Now mothers to children coming through OV themselves, both women said Candon taught them much. When asked to narrow it down, they responded immediately.
“Sportsmanship,” they said. “And unity.”
Once the ceremony began, OV Principal Jim Avery offered a laundry list of Candon’s accomplishments:
•  Teaching at Otter Valley for 31 years.
•  Coaching her softball teams to a 308-195 record (including Friday’s thrashing of visiting Mill River, 27-0, following the ceremony).
•  Winning 11 Marble Valley League titles.
•  Claiming three D-II championships and taking two other teams to finals and four to semifinals.
•  Being named MVL Coach of the Year seven times.
•  Twice being named the South all-star team head coach, and assisting five times in the Vermont State North-South game.
•  Twice coaching Vermont’s Twin State Softball Team.
•  Helping found the Vermont State Softball Coaches’ Association and serving as vice-president and secretary. 
•  Officiating field hockey for 38 years, working many state finals, officiating the Twin State Field Hockey Game twice, and receiving the Distinguished Service Award in 2005 and the Outstanding Official Award in 2012.
But Avery said there is much more to Candon than the championships and winning records. He quoted Walt Whitman: “Create good people, the rest follows,” and said that sentence captures the essence of “influence and impact” that Candon has had on her players and students.
“We all hope to instill in our students the desire to act with character,” Avery said. “Not because they believe it is expected, but because they believe it is right, and one of our best opportunities to build students’ character and teach them ethics, morality, and citizenship is through our high school athletics programs.”
Avery said it is not only Candon’s lessons of honesty, self-restraint and commitment that reverberate with her athletes, but also her practice of those lessons in her everyday life.
“The spirit of sport is about students finding in themselves an inner core of commitment, determination, and resiliency,” Avery said. “Students discovering they can do more than they thought. Learning that success in life comes with patience, with control, with discipline, and with help from others. To watch Coach Candon’s teams is to see those virtues in action.”
In closing, Avery said that the dedication is more than putting a name on a field, it’s about what Candon’s name evokes to players, now and in the years to come.
“I also hope that all of the coaches and players that play here in the future will remember who the field is named after, and more importantly, why,” Avery said.
Also speaking was Ray Counter, who has coached the OV junior varsity softball team for the past 18 years. Clearly moved, Counter said he has learned so much from Candon, personally and professionally.
“She is a very competitive person, but is able to mask it with a calm and assuring demeanor,” Counter said. “She always remains positive in the most difficult times. Her composure under pressure is truly amazing.”
Counter also called Candon “a student of the game,” adding that most people don’t know that she spends hours throughout the season working to improve the softball facilities and fields for games.
“I have not met a person that exemplifies the highest standards of sportsmanship, integrity, ethical conduct and moral character more than Ms. Candon,” Counter said. “There is not another person that has contributed more to the OV community as a coach, teacher, official, fan, mentor, and friend.”
Also invited to speak was Ashley Sanderson, the winning pitcher of OV’s 2009 title game. Sanderson said she uses the lessons Candon taught her as a player in her everyday life now as an adult.
“I learned respect,” she said. “How I was not the best student, but when you have someone in front of you expecting great things, you listen. Coach Candon taught me to believe.”
The current OV softball team presented Candon with a framed photo signed by the players, a T-shirt and flowers. Then, OV Athletic Director Steven Keith asked for the unveiling of the new field sign, which Avery and longtime OV teacher Jeff Jeske carried out.It read “Welcome to Candon Field,” in blue and white lettering with a safety green softball as the “o” in “Candon.”
Candon was clearly touched by all the attention, but characteristically kept her comments short and sweet.
“I appreciate the support that everyone has given me,” she said. “Girls, play ball!”

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