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2017 Sports Person of the Year: Grace Syron

She is amazing Grace.

And one of the amazing things about Grace Syron is her smile.

The day after the day that might have been the worst of her young life, she showed up for duty, wearing a soccer uniform and that trademark smile on her friendly face. That ever-present bright smile defines Grace as much as her athleticism and competitiveness.

“You know Grace [by] the smile on her face,” said Greenport athletic director Chris Golden, who coached her this past fall when she helped the Southold/Greenport high school girls soccer team reach the New York State Class C semifinals for the first time. “It is a beautiful smile. It lights up a room.”

It’s a contagious smile, too.

“It really brings a smile to your own face because she’s always so upbeat,” said Chris Golden’s daughter Jill, who is a longtime soccer teammate and friend of Grace’s.

Just behind her smile that mid-September day, though, there must have been tremendous pain. Just the day before, Sept. 15, Grace’s mother, Kathy, had succumbed to a long illness at the age of 52.

The First Settlers had a home game against Babylon the next day, and Grace was there as usual, ready to play. As always, her coaches and teammates could count on her. She had to play for her late mother. It was her mother who drove her to practices and games and served as a team mom. “She was always there to support me,” Grace said. “She was there for everybody on the team.”

A three-sport standout at Greenport High School, Grace Syron is known as much for her affable demeanor off the playing field as for her prowess on it. That’s just part of why the senior has been named The Suffolk Times’ Sports Person of the Year for 2017. She is also being recognized for the courage she showed in persevering despite the loss of her mother.

“She’s just a natural leader,” said Annie Lincoln, who plays alongside Grace on Southold/Greenport’s girls soccer, girls basketball and softball teams. “She always takes charge and she’s always there for you when you need her and she’s just an amazing person. I love her so much.”

Grace comes from a sports-minded East Marion family. Her father, Bob, played football and softball and coached her in softball. Her older brother, Keegan, is a freshman linebacker for the Hartwick College football team. A younger brother, Brendan, is an eighth-grader who plays soccer, basketball and baseball.

Chris Golden remembers the first time he ever saw Grace Syron. She was on a soccer field in Laurel, playing for a coed Greenport-East Marion-Orient team that was scrimmaging the Mattituck Marlins, an under-10 travel team Golden coached.

“There was this girl on the field,” he recalled. “Every time we did something, this girl would just dominate the play and it was kind of like, ‘Who is that girl out there?’ And it turned out to be Grace Syron, and even at 10 years old, Grace Syron, she stood out on that soccer field and I knew I had to sign her. I had to do it. It made up for all my bad signings. It was the greatest signing in my history.”

From the beginning, he said, he knew she was a special athlete, “a game-changer.”

Jill Golden, who played for the Marlins, quickly struck up a friendship with her. “Grace is an amazing person,” she said. “She’s really, really nice; I would say, hands down, the nicest person that I’ve ever met. She’s so kind and compassionate and she cares deeply about people.”

With her blend of strength, speed and quickness, Grace was an All-State Third Team midfielder this past fall. It was the third time she received All-State recognition in soccer, having made the third and fifth teams the previous two years. She and Jill Golden led Southold to its first Suffolk County Class C championship in 30 years and its first appearance in a state semifinal where the First Settlers (14-5) lost, 3-1, to Allegany-Limestone. Grace scored Southold’s lone goal, her 19th of the season. She also had seven assists on the year.

“You take this kid off this field … we just don’t go that far,” said Chris Golden.

Grace also excels in basketball and softball.

Grace Syron attempting a close-range shot despite being tightly guarded by Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Melina Santacroce. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

In the last softball season, her athletic skills were put to good use as she played a variety of positions, from second base to the outfield to shortstop to first base. Batting in the meat of the order, she finished with a .439 batting average, 11 RBIs, six doubles and two triples as Southold made the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.

In basketball, she’s so active that it can sometimes feel as if she is in multiple places at one time. Through eight games this season, the forward has posted double-doubles in each of them and a triple-double in one. She is averaging 14.5 points and 15.6 rebounds per game.

Skip Gehring, who coaches her in both of those sports, didn’t know Grace until she went out for those teams. “The thing that you noticed right off the bat, the first thing as a coach, is not athleticism that you notice, it’s a drive, a determination, a heart,” he said. “That’s the first thing that every coach notices. She was driven.”

Gehring said Grace is driven to win. Statistics are a byproduct of her hard work. “The biggest part that she brings to the team is a desire to win,” he said. “She’s coachable and she works harder than everybody else that’s out there, and that defines her.”

Chris Golden said: “She’s just — out here — head and shoulders, really, above any other female athlete in all three sports. She is as pure a three-sport athlete as I’ve seen in a long time.”

Although Grace is reserved, friends say she has a good sense of humor and has become more outgoing and charismatic. She can be hard on herself and for all of her talents, they say, she is modest and down-to-earth, without a trace of ego.

“Grace is probably the most real person I’ve known,” said Joan Dinizio, assistant to Greenport’s athletic director. “There’s nothing fake about her. She’s just an all-around great kid. She doesn’t realize just how talented she is, or maybe she does but she doesn’t let it affect her. She’s just a sweet girl.”

That sense made what Grace had to endure with her mother’s death all the more painful for her friends. Chris Golden remembers only too well that sad day when he received a text message from Grace, letting him know that she would not be in school that day; her mother had died.

Grace Syron delivers a base hit in the team’s game against East Rockaway. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Just as her mother had been there for her teammates, Grace’s teammates were there for her in her time of need. They embraced her during that difficult time. “They were all there for me,” she said.

Chris Golden said he had let Kathy Syron know he was going to “look out for Grace.”

As an intern for the Greenport athletic department, Grace is routinely in and out of the small office, which has the feel of a museum with old uniforms and sports memorabilia on display. One of the job’s perks is she sometimes gets to drive around a golf cart.

But an intern’s life isn’t all fun and games. It also involves less glamorous tasks such as laundering uniforms, preparing fields, providing gear and water. That keeps Grace busy to and from the athletic office, but that office also has another purpose. It’s a refuge, of sorts, for her.

“I told her, ‘You know, if you need some down time, if you need a place just to regroup, the door is always open for you,’<\!q>” Dinizio said. “So, she comes and she talks to us sometimes about how tough things are or about future plans. Chris and I will always be here for her. Chris made that promise to her mom: He would always look after her.”

Chris Golden said there have been times when Grace would enter his office, the door would be closed, she would take a seat across from his desk and cry.

“This was a real safe place for Grace and she needed that,” he said, sitting at his desk. “That’s the side that people did not see of Grace. There were times when she just needed to cry. It wasn’t easy.”

Those who knew Kathy Syron say they see a lot of her in Grace. The smile. The upbeat personality. The kindness.

“I hear that a lot, actually,” Grace said. “My mom was a very upbeat person and she was very caring. I heard that I have that, too. We were together all the time, so we were pretty similar in a way. I picked up a lot of things from her, I think.”

Grace continues playing in her mom’s memory.

“Her mom is in the back of her mind,” Dinizio said. “She wants to keep going because she knows that’s what her mom would want.”

Grace said she is undecided about what college she will attend, but will probably play soccer. Sports will likely be a part of her future.

“She has a bright future in front of her,” Gehring said, “and as long as she stays on the track that she’s on now, there’s nothing but the stars in front of her.”

It’s a future she can smile about.

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