West Hartford’s softball community plays one more for Jackie Hamad.
By Paul Palmer. Photos by Craig Rosenberg
For one afternoon at least, the sounds of a softball game brought peace to the friends and family of Jackie Hamad.
The 17-year-old died at home on April 3 after a battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. A three-sport athlete at West Hartford’s Hall High School, Jackie was the captain of the volleyball, indoor track, and softball teams she played on. It was on the softball field that Jackie, from a young age, played a game she loved, with people she cared about. Sunday, it was only fitting that it was a softball game that came to represent the love so many others have for Jackie and the entire Hamad family.
“We spent so much time here watching Jackie play softball,” her father, Mike, said at Sunday’s event at Sterling Field. “It was some of the best times of our lives. Today, seeing these girls together again is incredible.”
“These girls” are softball players and coaches, past and present, from the West Hartford Girls Softball League, from youth teams from other towns in the area, and current and former players at both Hall and Conard high schools. “Our goal today is to have everyone enjoy a game of softball and share some memories and some laughs,” read a statement from Kristina Carreira, who helped to organize the event.
In addition to the games, there were raffle, prizes, and donations that were made to honor Jackie’s memory. “It is our Field of Dreams that we get to be with these people again,” said her father.
The day was also a time for friends to share stories about Jackie and support each other through what is still a very difficult time. “She was an amazing person who would do whatever was needed for the team,” said Becca Lewis, her former head coach for Hall’s softball team. “She was always lifting up other players. Finding your identity in high school can be hard, but Jackie always found a way to bring people together and today we return that love she showed us.”
Becca Markie only played one season at Hall with Jackie, but they quickly became good friends and Markie said something about that relationship continues to change her life. “She was perfect,” Markie said. “There was something about her I knew I needed to be around. She taught me how she saw the world and she was the first person I ever met that was like that. The way she saw the world was so optimistic.”
The loss of Jackie is something that Markie, now a student and softball player at Emmanuel College in Boston, has not fully dealt with. “I processed it terribly,” Markie said of the death of her friend. “It is still hard and a lot of people didn’t know how much she meant to me.”
Markie also talked about a scene she saw while Jackie and her parents were in Boston getting treatment to fight cancer. “ She would walk across my campus going to and from treatments. It was very hard to watch that,” said Markie in a voice full of emotion.
All the players who gathered on Sunday wore a patch over their hearts with the letters “JH” written on a heart design. The impact of what the day meant was clear for everyone to see.
Jackie’s parents, Mike and Pam, and her brother Sam were surrounded by people who continue to support them. There were dozens of hugs and a few teary eyes during the pre-game ceremony where the two starting teams lined the baselines.
Pam spoke to everyone gathered, thanking them for being part of such a special day and commented that the break in the hot weather was something that Jackie brought to them to return the love they were showing. “The softball community is extraordinary and you have all wrapped your arms around us,” said Jackie’s mother. She also spoke of how Jackie started on the fields of West Hartford at age 5 with a pink glove and grey pants, and over the years most of those gathered on Sunday either played with her or watched her play.
“Thank you so much for being a part of our lives and a part of Jackies life. We hope you will carry those memories with you forever. We love you,” she added.
The fellowship among those that play and coach softball was on full display. Some who were there had never even met Jackie, but they were touched by her story and her passion for a game they love.
“I came here to celebrate Jackie,” said Mackenzie Griffiths. She played in the same youth leagues ahead of Jackie but made the trip down from Boston for the gathering. “A lot of these girls know Jackie and I know this means a lot to her family.”
McKenna Driscoll was an assistant coach on the Hall softball team before taking over as the head coach this past season. On Sunday, she described the past season and what the team faced in dealing with the loss of Jackie as the hardest thing she had to do last year.
“Jackie was the most vibrant, intelligent person. I’ll never forget her,” said Driscoll. She said the Titans’ motto in 2023 was to have fun and play like Jackie. “We wanted to honor her and make her legacy known to everyone.”
Each game this season, Driscoll listed Jackie’s name and No. 8 on the lineup care in tribute.
For Mackie, Sunday’s tribute was something she would never miss. “ When I heard about this game I knew I was going to be here. I texted everyone I knew to come to the game. I was down immediately,” Mackie said.
Her former coaches described Jackie as hard working, but never stressing over the results. They said she would always show up early to practice getting in some extra time in an effort to prepare herself to put in the best effort she could and not let her teammates down.
Lewis told the story of the time the team had some injuries and Jackie – an infielder – was needed to play in the outfield. “I went up to her and asked when the last time was she played in the outfield. She said in youth softball, so I threw her like four practice balls and she was ready,” recalled her former coach. “ She ended up making a game-saving, diving catch in a game we won. She was always we over me.”
Lewis also recalled how Jackie had a great sense of humor and shared a routine they had to get Jackie ready to bat in the games. “I would tell her a Dad joke before she got up to bat and she typically got on base.”
Sunday’s game and the tremendous turnout was just the latest example of what Jackie’s father, Mike, said has been amazing support the family has received from the West Hartford community. “We have had, despite our grief, so many reasons to be grateful to the community for its generosity and compassion and this day we have one more day to relive it,” Mike said. “We are so incredibly grateful for this day and if it happens each year that would be incredible.”
The pride Mike feels for his daughter and the young woman she was is evident when he talks about Jackie. “She was a really good artist and musician and she was very good with animals. She was a deep-thinking person who was not into the superficial stuff and she had a standard of excellence for herself that was self-driven.”
When reflecting on what might have been, Mike said Jackie’s potential was limitless. “We were so excited about the next chapter; college would have been incredible for her. She could have done anything.”
A testament to how hard-working Jackie was can be found in her efforts, despite battling cancer and having to travel to Boston for treatments, to finish high school with her graduating class. In the midst of all that was happening, Jackie managed to complete all the requirements. Jackie’s diploma was the first one handed out at Hall’s graduation this year. Her family was greeted with a standing ovation as they received her diploma from Principal Dan Zittoun.
The day of baseball and friends was a welcome relief for the Hamad family as they continue to live each day. “We are doing ok, but not really ok,” said Mike when asked how he and Pam and Sam were doing. “We are three broken people living in a broken home. Sam and I go to work and Pam takes care of us. Jackie is very much with us every day. We still talk to her and honor her by trying to live up to Jackie’s standards.”
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