ORONO, Maine — This fall has not been an easy one for senior Alyssa Bates, a senior midfielder-fullback on the Orono High School girls soccer team, or the entire Orono community for that matter.
Last month, Bates’ older brother, Collin, a 2008 graduate of Orono and former standout athlete at the school, was found dead on Ayers Island. Police ruled the death a suicide.
Bates’ teammates immediately came together to support their friend and “sister.” Junior goalkeeper Elizabeth Fox, senior striker Chloe Paul, and the rest of the Red Riots came up with a touching surprise in the form of red elastic bands inscribed with “Bates” in black capital letters, which the Red Riots are wearing in their drive to repeat as Eastern Maine Class C champions.
“That was our goalie, Elizabeth Fox’s idea, and my uncle works at Wight’s Sporting Goods, so I talked to him and he got some for us,” Paul said Friday after Orono beat Penquis of Milo.
Bates was at a loss for words when she saw what her teammates had done.
“[It means] pretty much more than words can explain. With everything going on, I wasn’t really thinking about a whole lot because it’s hard,” Bates said. “But when I came back to soccer [practice], they surprised me with it and it’s just so great that they care so much. It’s just really nice.”
Because Collin Bates graduated in 2008, many of the upperclassmen on the Orono roster knew him well.
“He knew all the seniors and some juniors,” she said. “You just can’t believe it happened. It’s like a roller coaster.”
According to Orono coach Cid Dyjak, one of the most well-respected coaches in the region, team chemistry has been an important factor in this time of healing.
“What we’ve tried to do is stay together as a team and be as supportive as we can and use soccer as a healing process,” he said.
Athleticism runs in the Bates family as Alyssa’s oldest sister, Jessica, a 2007 Orono graduate, played field hockey for the Riots. Collin Bates captained Orono’s football team and was a track and field standout, while Alyssa is a co-captain of the Riots’ soccer team.
That tradition is something Alyssa wants to carry on.
“We just want to represent what the Bates family [has represented athletically],” Alyssa Bates said.
Her teammates have been a rock of support to her throughout the season.
“We wanted to support her and her family by wearing the bands, and I feel like we have,” said junior midfielder Alex Crocker. “We wanted to support the family.”
Bates’ parents were in awe when they saw the bands, which are similar to the ones team captains wear on their arms or shin guards.
“They were shocked [in a good way] because I didn’t tell them and they were just like, wow, they care a lot,” Alyssa Bates said.
Even though her brother is gone, Alyssa Bates knows her brother will be watching over her, her teammates and all the Red Riots’ athletic teams.
Alyssa wants to honor Collin’s memory with not just a second straight regional title but a gold ball for winning the state championship.
“I think we all want to do this, not just for ourselves and for our school, but for him,” she said. “I want states, not just Easterns.”
Having her brother’s name on a band around her leg is all the motivation Bates needs.
“I just want to pretty much kick everybody’s butt that we play just to be like, ‘I’m doing this for you, Collin,’” she said, smiling and gazing upward.
Dyjak has been happy with the support of people throughout the area backing his club and all of Orono’s teams and students.
“I’m proud of the community. The community seems to have stepped up big-time,” he said. “I’m proud of the team for how they’re handling it, and I’m proud of Alyssa.”