Upbeat. Happy. Motivating. These are the words that Seton Hall women’s soccer coach Rick Stainton used to describe the atmosphere at the annual Mary Jennings Memorial Game.
The annual game to honor the former Pirate who died of liver cancer will be held on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. at Owen T. Carroll Field against Georgetown. As the head of the program, Stainton has had plenty of exposure to the event and knows what it means from the program’s perspective.
“Not just only to me but the whole program, Mary Jennings was someone who was very tight with the community, tight with the programs, and someone who has impacted many people along the way during her time here at Seton Hall,” Stainton said. “For us, it’s a way to honor her and the impact that she’s made, and those who don’t know her realize how that resembles Mary Jennings and how she is forever a part of us.”
This contest is held every year as a way for the Seton Hall to remember Jennings, a women’s soccer player at the school who passed away at 21 from cancer. Jennings was on track to graduate the following year with a degree in secondary education and history.
In addition to the game, Seton Hall created a memorial scholarship to remember Jennings. The scholarship is given to a student who “represents the team spirit and passion for education Mary Jennings exhibited.”
The lasting legacy of Jennings, exemplified in the scholarship, is still felt by the members of the team more than a decade later.
Taylor Cutcliff, a team captain who is gearing up to play in her fourth Mary Jennings game, spoke on the emotional importance of the match.
“The love she had for the game, the love she had for the community, the love she had for her school work, and the people around her, motivates me to work for the rest of my family on the field,” Cutcliff said.
The involvement Cutcliff has had in this once-a-year event has also helped her discover the type of person Jennings was, leading her to believe that the two would have enjoyed time around each other.
“For me, I feel like I would have been a really good friend of hers,” Cutcliff said. “And, she would have been a really good friend of mine.”
To this day, the team still feels Jennings’ presence. Frequent visits from monarch butterflies remind the team that while Jennings is no longer with them physically, a piece of her will always remain with them.
“When Mary Jennings had passed, the next game there was a field covered with many monarch butterflies,” Stainton said. “They just felt her presence at that time, so that’s what they use to symbolize her.”
That presence is noticed every year by the Pirates, typically during the preseason and right in the midst of Big East play.
“Mary Jennings loved monarch butterflies,” Cutcliff said. “It’s so weird, every preseason we are getting ready and say we are two days or one day out from our first game and all of a sudden, during practice, three of them would show up.
“It’s always when we are about to start Big East or right before we are going to have a really important game. A monarch butterfly shows up and everyone points it out and the younger girls, the freshmen, go ‘it’s Mary, it’s Mary,’ so we usually take that as a good sign and play really well the next day.”
Robert Fallo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_fallo.