MANCHESTER, NH – When your school makes basketball history by simultaneously winning both the boys’ and girls’ citywide championships, a victory parade is in order.
Smyth Road School Principal Jen Briggs knew this. She knew it had to be special – like duck boats, only without ducks, or boats. And she had to make it happen, literally, overnight. She had only a small opening in a tiny window of time to plan between Thursday night’s championship games and the beginning of February vacation, which was kicking in at precisely 2:50 p.m. Friday.
Fortunately Briggs and her friend Jane Clayton have the Smyth Road mojo.
Clayton is an assistant principal at Central High School, and both women are alumni of Smyth Road School – a common thread that binds them with so many others who were instrumental in Friday’s parade of champions.
For instance, Clayton had an ace up her sleeve. Two, actually. Her kids, Max and Missy – also Smyth Road alumni – were going to be in town. Max had played on Smyth Road’s championship basketball team in 2002. He happened to be home from New York City, where he sets Broadway stages on fire for a living with his hot-stepping dance moves, here to see his equally talented sister, Missy, who was about to set the Palace Stage on fire for opening night of “Cabaret.”
Like mother like son, Max also had an ace up his sleeve – Matt Doyle, who is kind of a big deal these days on Broadway, and Matt agreed to sing “We Are the Champions” over the school intercom system for students who lined the hallways in anticipation of a parade.
Phase 1 of the parade was on solid ground. [Watch the full parade video below].
Enter Moira Philbrook, yet another Smyth Road alumni who doubles as administrative assistant at the elementary school. Her kids, Lydon and Molly, happen to play percussion in Central’s marching band. With a nod from Clayton, they were granted permission to muster a four-person Smyth Road School Alumni mini-marching band, rounded out by senior Alex Cheung on crash cymbals and Sam Colby on trumpet, all recruited because, of course, they are all former Smyth Road students.
And with that, the parade was ready to roll the entire length of the school’s main hallway and back.
The boys and girls teams, dressed in their Smyth Road Basketball sweatshirts, carried their trophies with pride as their peers cheered them on, clapping and slapping high-fives. Bringing up the rear, Coach Terry Mann – also a Smyth Road alum, who masterfully coached both teams to victory this season.
Among those not surprised in the least over the magic of the Smyth Road Alumni Synergy is teacher Kathleen Martell. Also an alum, she has been teaching at the school for 29 years – arriving one year behind Briggs, who taught for 18 years before becoming principal.
“Coach Mann was in my first class,” says Martell. “Want to see his picture?” she asks, already heading to her classroom to retrieve the ancient roll of student photos. She unfurls it to reveal an unsuspecting second-grader who had no idea that destiny would bring him back to Smyth Road as the man of the hour on parade day in 2019.
Mann says he’s leaving on a high note. His daughter is moving up to middle school next year and he’s ready to hang up his coach’s whistle.
“The girls team was undefeated all season and the boys only had two losses,” says Mann, crediting all the players for their dedication to practicing five nights a week, with special shout-outs for his kid, Tianna Mann, who was high scorer and lead rebounder for the girls, and Owen Taylor and Cyrus Tarway, co-MVPs for the boys.
“It’s been a great season, but I’m done. It’s a lot, and I have another daughter playing at Hillside, so I am ready just to be a dad,” Mann says.
That leaves the door open for a new coach next year.
Perhaps if Max Clayton gets tired of the flaming Big Apple stages he might consider returning for a longer stay – after all, basketball was his sport, and he credits the discipline and skill set with preparing him for the demands of Broadway – from timing and practice, to working under pressure and teamwork.
If not next year, maybe someday.
Right now he’s preparing for his next show, with Matt, “The Heart of Rock’n’Roll,” based on the songs of Huey Lewis.
“It’s amazing how this all worked out,” Max said Friday. “We just happened to be in town.”
And while it most certainly could be that random, Assistant Principal Rachelle Otero, one of the few in the room who didn’t attend Smyth Road as a kid, leads the way to the Alumni Wall of Fame. She’s been a witness to the special sauce that is the Smyth Road experience.
She points to Max’s bio and photo hanging next to other Smyth Road alumni who’ve found their way to successful careers in the arts, politics, and teaching. [View the alumni wall of fame slideshow below]
Back in the office Jane Clayton and Principal Briggs are sharing a few more laughs before dismissal. Soon kids will vacate the premises for vacation week, and eventually Smyth Road School will be etched into the brass plates on the trophies.
The Parade of Champions will go down in Smyth Road history as a day to remember.
“It’s great how it all came together,” Jane Clayton says. “You know, once you go to Smyth Road you’re forever attached – to the school, and to each other.”