The Beating Heart of the Team

Philip Kamrass / Times Union

Writer Fran Rossi Szypylczyn emailed a great story that is a perfect spirit-warmer on a cold, dank day, and a great reminder the pro-life month of October comes to a close, of the dignity of every human life.

Shaker High School’s freshman girls’ soccer team says it has 11 players, 22 feet and one heartbeat.

Gianna MacPhee isn’t the best player, or the fastest on her feet, but she clearly illustrates the team’s big heart.

Gianna has Down syndrome, and her decision to try out for the team came as a shock to her parents. She’d signed up as an eighth-grader after gym one day, and her parents found out when someone else told them.

“We were at a travel tournament when one of our younger daughters’ soccer coaches said, ‘I see Gianna signed up for freshman soccer,’ ” her mother, Virginia MacPhee, said. “Our daughter knows what she wants and goes after it, which is something we always wanted.”

In her very first outing, Brehm said, Gianna played as a striker. When the ball came her way, she stopped it and kicked it to midfielder Sarah Cheney.

“She actually passed, and I had the best shot of my life,” Cheney said. The ball sailed into the goal.

“She had an assist on one of the first passes she ever made,” Brehm said. “She definitely is very charismatic. The kids love her.”

The players are unanimous in saying Gianna is an important part of the team.

“We have more fun when she’s around,” said Julia Maloney. “She makes the coach a lot nicer.”

“I think it brings our team closer,” added Eva Torncello. “She’s always here, and she works just as hard as we do.”

When Gianna takes the field, Jenni Barra said, her reaction makes everyone else try harder.

“When she goes into the game, you just see her smile,” she said. “To see her smile is just a really great feeling for us.”

Carlie Maxwell calls Gianna a positive influence, and McKenzie Riccio said she thinks the team has had a similar effect on Gianna.

“We’re all about the one heartbeat, and we are a family,” player Justine Deyo said. “Gianna has brought us that much closer. We love her so much. We see her in the hall, and we’re all close friends.”

You can read it all here and view more pictures, too.

Gianna is wonderful! Her team is great! And her parents are inspiring! Imagine if Gianna wasn’t here, how much chillier autumn would be for Shaker High School, and for all of us who wouldn’t have been warmed today, by this story!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • wpdunn71901

    Thanks Elizabeth, on a very dark day for me i needed a reminder that we humans are worth caring about

  • Fran Rossi Szypylczyn

    Thanks for passing this to your wide audience. I think it is a remarkable story and I also love that her name is Gianna!

  • Jeanne

    Thank you for posting such an inspiring story…and I too LOVE that her name is Gianna!

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  • F

    Anchoress, thanks for posting this on my bday. It makes me hopeful for my niece’s future since she also has DS.