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March 02. 2014 8:20PM

Eric Mommsen: Working with young people has brought joy, purpose to my life

(Editor's Note: Eric Mommsen is a teacher at Somersworth's Maple Wood School. He was honored with the Carl Lundholm Award for Distinguished Service to Youth in Athletics at the Union Leader's annual Leaders sports banquet in February. The following are extended excerpts from his acceptance remarks.)

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On a day like this I cannot help but think about and celebrate all that is so very good about our great state of New Hampshire, and the countless wonderful athletes, coaches and officials who so proudly call it home. It is, and always will be, an honor and privilege for me to have the opportunity to work each day with some of the finest people and athletic programs anywhere in the world, right here in the Granite State.

I love my great city of Somersworth. I love our great schools in which I so proudly work each day. My heart shall forever bleed Hilltopper Blue, my license plates read "Toppers," and my wardrobe consists only of 50 shades of Somersworth blue. But the people who truly know me quickly realize that it isn't really so much about a city, but rather about my love for the wonderful people within.

Each day I give every ounce of energy that I have, into both education and athletics, to simply make the world, or at least my corner of the world, a little better than it was the day before and to give young people the very best possible opportunities that I can. On any given day I find myself involved with two or three different sports, and people often ask which one is my favorite.

To me, whichever sport gets a young person up off the couch and away from their video games and computers and yet keeps them out of trouble, is my favorite. I've proudly gone to watch the young people in my community play in more than 25 different sports through the years. I've rarely ever met a sport that I do not love. …

Learned many lessons

Over the last quarter of a century, as I've worked on improving fields, equipment, and programs, I've so often found myself sharing simple lessons with the student athletes with whom I work each day. Along the way, I have learned a thousand lessons myself. Early on I quickly realized that the lessons taught and lessons learned in athletics are so very often less about "sports" and more about "life."

Great lessons like taking the time to truly appreciate and thank the wonderful people in your life who do so much for you each day. Learning how to win and how to lose with dignity. Earning and giving respect. Having genuine pride in your school and in your community. Lessons like, "Life goes by all too quickly, so take the time to appreciate your childhood, for before you know it, you'll be an old man like me forever wishing that you could build a time machine and go back to the good ol' days."

And knowing that there always seems to be a few more young people watching over me each year from Heaven above, sometimes the lessons are a little more serious like, "Always, always, always appreciate every moment that you have with your teammates and friends as there is no guarantee that tomorrow shall ever come."

Respect alive and well

And to those people in society who always say that kids these days have "changed" or that they no longer have respect, I really do wish that you could see life through my eyes. For I work, day in and day out, with some of the most dedicated, hard-working, friendly, caring, and respectful young people who have ever walked upon this great planet. I think of that every time that a big, tough-looking high school football player stops and talks to me, or thanks me as the tears form in their eyes, or refers to me simply as "sir." Yes, respect and appreciation are alive and well in the children of today.

At Jackson's Landing in Durham the other day I watched a former student play hockey. People were amazed that I would miss the beginning of the Super Bowl just to come watch a game that they knew they didn't even have a chance of winning, out in a freezing cold, outdoor hockey arena. But in my wisdom I knew that after the game, that 10-year-old boy would look me in the eye and say, "Thank you very, very much for coming, Mr. Mommsen. I really appreciate that a lot."

Kids really appreciative

As many Super Bowls as I've watched in my lifetime, those highly-paid professional athletes have never once thanked me. But kids — kids really do appreciate all that you do for them. It might not always seem it at the time, but someday, perhaps in their senior year of high school, or years later after they've come back from college, or even when they're in their 20s or 30s and have had children of their own, yes, someday they'll look back and appreciate all that you did for them and come find you and look you in the eye and say, "thank you."

I'm often reminded that I could make more money and get more recognition working in the NFL or professional baseball, but the unforgettable moments that I've so often experienced through the years, I wouldn't trade for all of the money in the world.

I've traveled with our Somersworth baseball teams to the ESPN studios in Bristol for the Little League Regionals and to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

I've led motorcades around our city to celebrate state championships and have had team pictures taken with a governor at the State House.

Watched with pride

I've so proudly watched wonderful little kids like Drew and Danika grow from playground games at recess time to the NCAA. I've watched in awe as Rachel represents our great country in World Cup soccer.

I was the one lucky enough to proudly announce Victoria's name as she scored the first ever basket for our high school's newly formed unified basketball team as the crowd went wild and to see Andrew and Craig, Michael and Luke at basketball games and realize that the players of yesterday have now moved on to become the coaches and referees of today, carrying on the traditions for yet another generation of young athletes.

I've watched as Caitlin's softball uniform changed into a nurse's uniform, little Jon's baseball uniform into a suit and tie as he works away down in Boston, and as Ryan and Tony's basketball uniforms transformed into fatigues as they've stepped up to defend this great country of ours.

Grow prouder each day

Each day as I grow older, I grow prouder. Yes, in the cold bleachers of the Rochester Arena at 10 o'clock at night as I watch Shane and Danielle take a rare night off from their parenting duties to skate together in pickup hockey games I realize, yes, there are some things in life that are simply priceless. So today, as you honor me, I honor them, for they bring purpose and joy to the simple things that I do each day.

To the athletes here today, I say, Follow your dreams. Keep working hard and playing hard. Have fun and stay out of trouble, please. I am, and always will be, so very proud of each and every one of you. I wish you the very best wherever the roads of life may take you. You're wonderful!

Thank you so very much.



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