After injury, Staples athlete applies skills to special project

Sep 22, 2022 | Community, Education | 0 comments

Zoe Simonte, a Staples High School senior who stepped aside from the field hockey team after being injured, has organized “Hearts 4 Hockey,” a program helping special-needs teens and adults learn the sport. / Photo by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Zoe Simonte, a Staples High School senior, has played field hockey since she was in fourth grade. 

But when a serious injury ended her field hockey career last year, she didn’t give up. Instead, she channeled her energy and playing skills into an off-the-field project helping special needs teens and adults.

Zoe, who also is manager of the Staples cross-country team, has organized “Hearts 4 Hockey” in Stamford, where she volunteers in an adaptive recreation program to teach participants field hockey skills. 

In order to make it safer, she researched and bought special equipment, including foam extenders for the hockey sticks and soft balls, paying $1,375 for the equipment by collecting donations. Her program currently has about 20 participants.

Ian Tapsall, the Staples field hockey coach, said Zoe has been a dedicated player he coached both on club teams and later at Staples. She is a someone who will continue to give back to the community, he said.

“Always at every practice, game and tournament, her effervescent support and attitude has always been front and center for all to witness,” Tapsall said. “Zoe has without any doubt put herself in a position where her service to the community at large will reap incredible gains for those she is helping.”

Zoe Simonte, foreground, helps coach special-needs teens and adults learn field hockey in the “Hearts 4 Hockey” program she organized in Stamford. / Contributed photo

Field hockey appealed to Zoe at an early age because of the team spirit and camaraderie she enjoyed as a player on club teams with girls from other towns and on the Staples team before her injury. 

She has a twin sister, who is a member of the Staples cross-country team, and a stepbrother, also a senior, who swims.  

“I don’t like the competitive aspect of those sports,” Zoe said. “There are lessons I learned on the [field hockey] field that I apply to my own life.”

When she started volunteering to help people with disabilities, Zoe soon realized that it was likely that none of them had ever picked up a hockey stick. 

In the Hearts 4 Hockey program, she coaches participants in passing and shooting skills with sticks and balls, sometimes with assistance from a friend or relative.

She said she is drawn to community service, and plans to apply to small liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. “Hopefully, lots of these smaller schools have community service programs,” she said.

Zoe is not certain now what major she will pursue in college or her post-college plans, but knows that she wants to do something “people-related.”

She chose to start the program in Stamford because participants are part of the “Healing Heart” adaptive recreation program for people with a range of physical and mental abilities, which she learned about through family friends. She began volunteering for the program a year ago around the time that her injury took her off the hockey field and gave her time to think about how she could use her athletic skills to help others.

“I didn’t want to do what everyone else did … not just check boxes” by participating in numerous high school activities to boost her college admission chances. “I wanted to really lead something,” she said.

Tapsall said he knows Zoe will succeed with her new program and whatever else she undertakes.

“With her infectious, caring attitude, Zoe … is a wonderful example to all,” he said.

Learn more about the “Hearts 4 Hockey” program at Facebook and Instagram pages posted by Zoe.

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Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and currently teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.

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