Under Northampton High School lights, the Lancers finally won. The Longmeadow field hockey team broke their season-long losing streak with their win against Northampton in the last game of the 1981 season. The new head coach, Ms. Ann Simons, knew this first victory was only the beginning.
“That started everything. You can’t quit just because you go winless. The first step will come with your first win and then you get better and better. That’s what we’ve done.”
That win was the first of over 500 during Coach Simons’ career as Longmeadow’s field hockey coach. While creating the most dominant field hockey team in Western Massachusetts, she has earned an exceptional reputation as a coach, winning MIAA Coach of the Year (2013-2014), Massachusetts Women in Athletics Distinguished Service Award (2013), multiple PVIAC Coach of the Year awards, and team sportsmanship awards. After 41 seasons, Coach Simons is making the 42nd her last, as she plans to retire at the end of the 2022 season.
Coach Simons seamlessly moved from being a player to coach after graduating from Springfield College in 1981, where she played field hockey and softball, and began coaching at Longmeadow High School the following fall. Prior to her career at LHS, her first coaching position was for the Junior Varsity softball team at West Springfield High School during her junior year in college. There, she also coached basketball for two years and earned her referee certification.
For 42 years, Coach Simons’ coaching philosophy has remained the same: “Work hard, love what you do, and stay humble, determined, and focused.” She has learned from balancing the roles of teacher and coach for many years that “coaching is just like teaching and teaching is just like coaching.” Assistant Varsity Coach Kelly Gallo, who has worked alongside Coach Simons for six years, sees her as “a true teacher and role model.”
Looking into the future, as Coach Gallo continues her coaching career, she aspires to embody certain aspects of Coach Simons’ coaching. “I have seen and heard many stories about how Coach Simons has made a positive impact on her players’ lives through the lessons taught on and off the field. I hope to have that same impact for the players I coach,” said Coach Gallo.
Being a good coach requires keeping it professional, remaining strict, and having high standards, according to Coach Simons. “And I think the kids react to that and respond to that. I think they take pride in themselves. I always say if we can’t play well, you guys will look well. Fortunately, we’re able to do both of those for such a long, long time.”
Coach Simons has learned from coaching hundreds of kids over the years “to treat them with respect and listen to them” in order to be successful. “When I first started, I was much tougher than I am now, and I’ve just learned to roll with the punches better and to be a little more flexible in my thinking,” she said. She understands the busy lives of high school student athletes, and ultimately wants them to enjoy themselves during field hockey: “If we can win and have fun at the same time, then my goal has been accomplished.”
Just as Coach Simons has learned from her players, her players have learned from her. “Work ethic, leadership, and passion. Coach pours everything she has into the sport and our team, just as she has taught all her athletes to do. You do something, you do it with heart and hustle,” said senior field hockey captain Audrey Oh when asked about what she has learned during her experience of playing for Coach Simons. “She makes her trust in us very clear and knows how well we can do and pushes us to see that in ourselves,” added senior captain Meghan Walsh.
During her time at Longmeadow, Coach Simons has tied in community service initiatives with the field hockey program, which have become annual traditions. Most notably, at home games, the team honors specific causes and charities before they play, some of which include Alzheimer’s, Play For The Cure, Toys for Tots, and Opioid Addiction. “It’s very important to me to always give back to the community. My grandfather [George Simons] was a great believer of that and he was one of my best role models,” said Coach Simons.
Athletic director of Longmeadow High School, Mr. Michael Capotosto, reflected on Coach Simon’s retirement: “We were lucky to have Coach Simons here at Longmeadow High School for one year, nevermind 42 years! She has high expectations for her programs, coaches, and most importantly her student-athletes. Above all, Coach Simons is a great mentor and friend to many of her former players and coaches.”
Oh remarked that being the last team that Coach Simons will ever coach is “both an honor and a challenge.” These circumstances create a sense of pressure for the team to perform well, but Walsh explained that it’s fully driven by the team’s desire to make her proud. “The way we finish this season is the way Coach leaves her legacy, so we really want to give her the best possible season we can,” said Oh.
Their ultimate goal to honor Coach Simons, as Oh says, is to get “as far as we possibly can in the state tournament, a tournament that she has come so close to winning so many times before.”
Sixteen Western Massachusetts titles and seven state finals later (excluding this season), Coach Simons is retiring, but she is not gone for good. “I will definitely miss the kids and the competition. I thrive on excitement and I will miss it…I’ll probably be back down the road and help out whoever the coach is.”
A particular quote resonates with Coach Simons: “Success is the voice you hear within when you know you’ve done your best, left your mark, and made a difference!” She has left more than a mark on the field hockey program. Through her achievements and coaching principles, Coach Simons has created a legacy that will live on through the teams to come and will be forever admired by the Longmeadow community.