Last year, the Oliver Ames hockey team put together a Cinderella-like run that had not been seen from OA in 25 years. Advancing to the third round of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament, the Tigers finally fell to Hockomock rival Franklin in a heartbreaking loss.
For at least three of the leaders on the team, though, the end of the season didn't mean the hard work and teamwork was over - it just meant the beginning of a new season. And, for senior captain Ryan McGrath, junior captain Sean Kyne and senior Matt Carroll, some rather unusual leadership and teamwork training was in store.
While the leaders of rival teams took on summer jobs and ran off-season workouts, the three OA players joined a group of eight other Oliver Ames students and OA English teacher Megan Campbell and headed south on a World Challenge trip and community service endeavor to Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
"This was a whole leadership expedition about having leadership skills and learning how to manage a group of people efficiently," said McGrath, who is also the kicker for OA's football team.
The trip was administered by World Challenge, a company that organizes developmental trips for students. According to its website, the company "promotes self discovery and a better understanding of the world. Students participate actively at every stage of the program, from planning phases to the expedition itself."
"We started planning it two years ahead of time," Carroll said
"We basically set it up ourselves," added McGrath. "We chose our itinerary and we chose what community service project we wanted to do. So, basically every aspect of the trip was done ourselves."
World Challenge first presented at the high school when McGrath and Carroll were sophomores and Kyne was a freshman. In addition to McGrath, Carroll and Kyne's group of 11 students, another group of 13 OA students participated in the trip.
The three hockey players knew right away that it was something they wanted to do. For all three of them, removing themselves from their comfort zone was something they weren't afraid of.
Carroll had been on trips to Germany and Austria in the past and was looking to expand his horizons. Kyne, on the other hand was looking to get out of the country for the first time.
For McGrath, who is hoping to pursue a degree in outdoor education and join an Army ROTC program, this was right up his alley.
"I wanted to travel and see other parts of the world and do some community service," said McGrath.
While planning the trip, participants had an option in community service projects between working with endangered turtles and working with school children in Nicaragua. McGrath, Kyne and Carroll chose to work with the kids.
They quickly learned that while the work was rewarding, it wasn't easy.
"We were painting and we were basically just there to spend time with the kids," said Carroll. "It was basically like an all-day birthday party for them. They’d wake up and we’d hear rocks on the roof of the school at about six in the morning. That was the main thing - painting a high school."
In addition to painting, the group had the opportunity to teach the Nicaraguan children English. For the three hockey players, they stuck to a topic they were familiar with.
"We basically taught the kids sports – Spanish to English sports," said McGrath. "We would throw it up on the white board. They learn English to some extend in their schooling. They knew some of the stuff but there was a good amount of stuff that we taught them."
Working in a poverty-stricken village put things in perspective for the Easton natives. Now back in school at Oliver Ames, the trip-goers said they realized how fortunate they are.
"When I’m in class it’s like ‘I’ve got it made,'" Kyne said. "I was surprised how happy the kids were. You would feel so bad for them, but they don’t know any better so they just have a good time."
The trip wasn't all work. Every three days a different student-leader was assigned to the group. That leader was in charge of hikes and excursions for the day. Students had an opportunity to meet locals and other tourists, and they rarely spent too long in one place.
At one point, the group hiked to the border of Panama, walked through rainforests and trekked through rain storms.
When OA hockey returns to the ice this winter, the players agreed that the experience will help them lead their team.
"It gives you a lot more patience," said Carroll. "If someone screws up a drill for the third time in a row - before you’d be upset but now it just makes you have a lot more patience."
"You learn to accept everyone for who they are," added McGrath. "Everyone is different."
As far as goals for next season, the three players agreed that complacency was not an option.
"I think for me, right now training-wise while I’m lifting, I think 'I could be in a village right now with no money,'" said Kyne. "It gives you a lot of motivation."