Twins Jacob and Isaac Clark of Pleasantville High School and the Sacred Heart softball team produced two of the most compelling stories of the spring high school sports season.
The achievements resonated with their respective communities and meant more than just winning a game or a race.
The twins are The Press Male Athletes of the Spring. The members of the Lions' softball team are The Press Female Athletes of the Spring.
The twins led the Pleasantville 4x800-meter relay team to victory in a Championship of America race at the Penn Relays Carnival in Philadelphia. The Greyhounds were the first local boys team to ever win a Championship of America race.
The Sacred Heart girls won a school-record 31 games and reached the state Non-Public B final. The Lions accomplished that despite an announcement in April that the Vineland school would close this month because of low enrollment.
The Pleasantville foursome of Dagoberto Arias, Radcliffe Narinensingh and the Clark twins won the 4x800 relay at the Penn Relays on April 27. The Penn Relays is one of the world's oldest and most prestigious track and field meets.
The school and the community embraced the achievement.
"It gave a positive vibe to Pleasantville," Isaac said. "It showed that not everything in Pleasantville is negative. There's something positive coming out of Pleasantville High."
The twins accomplished a lot this spring. They won South Jersey and state titles. Isaac won the 800 run at the Meet of Champions. But nothing meant as much to Pleasantville as the Penn Relays victory.
The school held a pep rally for the team two days after the race. The city hung a banner across Main Street and held a parade two weeks later. The twins get recognized often as they walk around town. People ask for autographs. Children look up to them.
"People say, 'There goes the twins, the Clark twins,' " Isaac said.
A special farewell
Two weeks before the Penn Relays, the Camden Diocese announced it would close Sacred Heart at the end of the school year because of low enrollment.
The news shook the Lions. They were the defending state champions.
The Lions could have easily fallen apart as players became concerned with finding a new school and their own individual issues.
But Sacred Heart kept winning. The Lions set a school record for victories and then lost to Immaculate Conception 6-4 in the state Non-Public B final on June 9.
The Sacred Heart roster consisted of the following players: seniors Samantha Caterina and Lindsay Dwyer; juniors Gabby Castellini, Rosie LaGrotta and Danielle Lugo; sophomores Alyssa Fabrizio, Ciana Carter, Kelly Hullihen and Lauren Dwyer; and freshmen Alyssa Waddington, Brianna Lopez, Kyrsten Makos and Kaila Smith.
"It was a breathtaking experience," Lindsay Dwyer said, "representing Sacred Heart and going down in history. At the beginning, we were like, 'Oh, this awful. What are we going to do?' We evolved into, 'We don't have anything to lose. Let's go for it.' "
Alumni and even strangers rallied behind the team. Dwyer attended her brother's middle school graduation in Vineland during the team's playoff run. Strangers came up to her.
"People came up and said, 'We recognize you from the paper. You're the Dwyer girl from Sacred Heart,' " Dwyer said. "They said, 'Your story is inspiring. What heart you must have.' "
The Clark twins will leave in August for South Plains College, a national junior college power in Texas.
But they won't forget about Pleasantville.
"I'm going to take a whole lot of Pleasantville (to Texas)," Jacob said. "No matter what goes on, I'm not going to forget where I'm from."
Meanwhile, the underclassmen on the Sacred Heart team will wear the uniforms of different schools next season, but everyone connected with Sacred Heart will also remember what the softball team achieved this spring.
Lindsay Dwyer wrote her teammates a note on the bus ride back from the state final.
"I told them never to forget their bonds at Sacred Heart," she said. "We say it all the time, but you can't understand unless you go to our school. We're family."
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