Freshman’s maturity on display
Makes impact with varsity despite illness
His pregame routine is a bit different from the rest of his teammates at St. John’s Prep. In the privacy of a locker room, Drew O’Connell of Middleton secures an insulin pump to his thigh before slipping on his uniform.
A 5-foot-11 freshman midfielder, O’Connell has played lacrosse since the second grade. But his routine changed two years ago, when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 13.
At the time, he was just like any other teenager. O’Connell enjoyed playing sports and spending time with his friends. But he could not shake a constant fatigue. He was not overly concerned until a friend asked him if he was depressed because he seemed so drained and never wanted to do anything extra.
His parents scheduled a doctor’s appointment. He barely finished sharing his symptoms before he was diagnosed.
“My initial reaction was like I had gotten a bad grade,’’ O’Connell said. “It didn’t really feel like anything big . . . Once I came back to being fully functional, it was a pretty big adjustment, but it’s pretty easy to control once you get the hang of it.’’
His first concern: Would he be able to continue playing sports? His doctors quickly reassured him that diabetes would not interfere with his athletic career.
O’Connell manages his condition with the pump, which supplies him with insulin 24 hours a day. He keeps snacks on hand when his blood sugar gets too low. Despite the physicality of lacrosse, his pump has only been jarred loose twice; and each time, he took a minute to reattach it before trotting back on the field.
“He has dealt with [diabetes] in stride the entire season,’’ Prep coach John Roy said. “I talked with Drew early on in the year about it just to let him know if he ever needs anything, feels like he has low blood sugar, just the technical stuff about dealing with diabetes as an athlete, we addressed that early on. He’s been incredibly mature and up front about it, and it’s never been an issue or a detriment to him.’’
Earning a spot on the varsity as a freshman is an impressive feat, never mind dealing with diabetes. And O’Connell emerged as an impact player for the defending Division 1 state champions, racking up 37 points (22 goals, 15 assists) entering Tuesday’s rematch against Duxbury in the Division 1 East championship game.
The opportunity to play with his older brother Jimmy, a senior captain, was an added bonus.
A 5-foot-10 All-American midfielder who will attend Trinity College, Jimmy O’Connell (51 goals, 8 assists) also made the varsity as a freshman. He had played on a line with classmates Jon Farrow and Colin Blackwell since his sophomore year until Roy moved Blackwell up to attack this year.
The coach tried a number of combinations before putting Drew on the line in a game against Boston College High. Jimmy scored five goals and Drew contributed two goals and three assists. The brothers have been together ever since.
“It’s a really cool experience to be able to play with my brother,’’ Jimmy said. “He’s done an unbelievable job just to go out there, not be afraid, and do what he does. Whenever he scores, there’s a little thing like now I have to score, so he makes me better too.’’
Drew said his older brother is a role model, both on the field and in charitable work. On a family vacation to Costa Rica four years ago, the O’Connells visited a village in which most of the children were too poor to attend school. Their plight stuck with Jimmy, who asked his father how he could help the children receive an education.
“The lady we rented our house from had some ties with the school there and I just felt for them because they really didn’t have much,’’ Jimmy said. “I talked to my dad after and said is there any way you can help me try to raise money for them. He had a golf tournament coming up soon, so we decided to do some stuff there.’’
Since then, the annual O’Connell Hospitality Tournament benefits Pro Kids Costa Rica, a charity that provides children with school supplies, shoes, and backpacks. People help by sponsoring participants — many of whom are on the Prep golf team — in longest drive or closest-to-the-hole contests as well as through raffles and donations. To date, O’Connell has raised $12,500 for children in Costa Rica.
Jimmy O’Connell graduated from St. John’s earlier this month, but Drew plans to follow in his older brother’s charitable footsteps. He plans to raise money this summer, probably through a golf tournament, to benefit diabetes foundations.
“We haven’t gone into much discussion about what we’re going to do fully yet, but we just know we’re going to do something this summer,’’ Drew said. “The idea to help people comes from my brother. He’s one of my role models and has always been in my life making the right choices. I just look up to him.’’
Area girls’ teams come up short The Andover High girls put together the best season in program history before falling to Lincoln-Sudbury in the Division 1 North final, 17-9. The Golden Warriors won 22 games and reached the North final for the first time. Andover’s experience helped carry them through the season as 15 of the 22 players on the team won a state championship in either field hockey or basketball. “Having kids who know how to win is great,’’ coach John McVeigh said. “I think that’s why we were able to compete all year the way we did. It wasn’t our day, but we’ll learn from it.’’
The Winchester girls lost in the Division 2 state final for the second straight year, falling to Hopkinton, 18-15, at Wellesley College.
Arielle Aronson can be reached at email@example.com.