There was nothing normal about last week for Dan Skilins and his Bronx Science girls volleyball team.
Sure, the Wolverines had another Public School Athletic League matchup on tap, this time against Walton. And yes, the Wolverines’ 76-game winning streak in regular season games was still very much alive.
But for the first time in what seemed like forever, volleyball took a back seat for both Skilins and his team as Bronx Science’s longtime head coach was forced to step away from his dream job of coaching volleyball and deal with the loss of his father.
August Skilins passed away last week after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer.
So while Skilins trekked north to Rochester to be with family and bid his dad a heartfelt farewell, his team dealt with his absence in the best possible way they could — by practicing, staying on top of their game, and readying themselves for the next challenge.
But they also found time to pull together a small token to show Skilins how much he was missed and how much he was loved by his team.
An idea hatched by senior co-captains Amanda Maeglin and Darya Lollos became a framed team photo, along with some other “silly pictures,” as sophomore Josephine Kinlan put it, letting the coach know he was not alone in this most difficult time.
“Obviously a loss like that is very difficult to deal with,” Kinlan said. “We had been with him through the stages of his father’s sickness, so we thought a framed picture would be something happy, and it wouldn’t make him sad. We also gave him a card from all of us that let him know that we, as a team, are all there for him. We’re not only his players, we’re his friends. And we’re always going to support him.”
The gift was presented to Skilins at Bronx Science before the team made the three-block trek to Walton for its game last Thursday.
“They all signed it. It was amazing,” Skilins said. “I almost cried outside the school. Let me tell you about these girls. They have lifted me through this whole process. Even when I was getting antsy coaching (against Walton), they would just say to me, ‘Don’t worry, coach. We got this for you.’”
The Wolverines capped an emotional day by going out and securing their 77th consecutive regular-season victory, downing Walton 25-18, 25-18. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins for a Science team that rarely makes mistakes. But considering the emotional upheaval the Wolverines dealt with last week, it was more than enough for Skilins, who was just glad to be back on the sidelines. A little bit of normalcy injected back into his life.
“I love volleyball,” Skilins said. “It is the greatest game on the planet. And this group is so great. They do a great job emulating what a student-athlete is. They take care of their books, they’re good friends to each other, they embody teamwork and fortitude. They are amazing young people, and they inspire me. They make me reach to where they’re at, even though I’m 40 years older than them. I’m just trying to be like they are.”
Maeglin, who had six kills and five service points in the win, said it was important for the team to show their coach love and support during these trying times.
“This past week was kind of a learning experience for us,” Maeglin said. “Just adapting and overcoming some of the emotions we were feeling. We are aching for him. We feel so terrible that he’s going through such an awful loss.
“But coach is just so dedicated. When his father passed, the first thing he said was, ‘I want to come back. I love you girls and I love this sport, and this is where I want to be.’ So we wanted to acknowledge his dedication and his support and give it back to him. I think he knows now more than ever that we’re here to support him like he supports us.”
The Wolverines continued to support Skilins the very next day, taking down Lehman, 25-17, 25-13 last Friday for their 78th straight win. Maeglin had nine service points, both Grace Lorch and Jessica Muller added nine assists apiece, and Anya Lollos logged nine kills.
For a coach as passionate about volleyball as Skilins, it proved to be the perfect gift.
“I told them before we left Bronx Science for (the Walton) game, I said to them, ‘You guys are one class act,’” Skilins said. “I love them.”
Apparently, the feeling from his players is mutual.