Assistant coach LaSashia Connelly (right) cheers on Maine Maritime Academy players during a basketball game last season. The North Carolina native has helped inspire team members to be active in helping promote better race relations. Credit: Maine Maritime Academy athletics

LaSashia Connelly watched with sadness as George Floyd’s death in police custody sparked protest marches and riots across the country.

Floyd, a Black man, died during an arrest after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Connelly, who is Black, looked on from an isolated vantage point in Castine, where the North Carolina native is an assistant coach for the Maine Maritime Academy women’s basketball team.

As widespread protests and some riots broke out, she even worried about the safety of her own family members. She also realized it was necessary to talk about the situation.

“George Floyd made me realize that it may have happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but that’s something that the conversation can still be had here in Castine,” Connelly said.

Maine Maritime coaches arranged for a video conference call with team members to discuss everything that was going on.

“We wanted to get on the phone with [Connelly] and the team so that everybody could talk about the climate of the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement,” MMA head coach Craig Dagan said.

For Connelly, it was an opportunity to share her feelings about racism and to encourage the student-athletes to take stock of their own knowledge.

“We wanted to address it and what our program stands for and what we are about, how we are open and welcoming of everyone,” Connelly said.

For MMA team members, some of whom have not been directly exposed to those issues, that meant having a discussion about racism for the first time. Connelly said that is the first step toward change.

“[She stressed that] even though it’s hard to grasp the thought of trying to be heard globally, continuing to educate ourselves can create a better environment and have a positive impact on those around us,” MMA rising junior Lauren Plissey of Hermon said.

Connelly said even though MMA and the Castine community are not racially diverse, she has always felt welcomed and supported during her two-plus years living and working there.

“I didn’t realize it until I moved up here, but I may be the only person of color, Black person, in these kids’ lives,” Connelly said. “I’m very thankful that I was placed in this community to be that point of reference and to help with the education piece.”

The Zoom call hit home with the players. Led by rising junior Claire Felix of Mahopac, New York, and Plissey, they felt compelled to demonstrate their commitment to their coach and to the cause.

“We want her to know that we really do love her and support her,” Felix said. “We don’t really know how she feels, per se, but we are determined to learn and we are listening to everything that’s going on and we really just want to make a change within our campus and community.”

What emerged was a 2-minute, 47-second Facebook video during which the players shared their feelings about Connelly and how she has impacted their lives.

“For them to have the desire to put something so personal together, to show their love for her but to also show her that we hear you, we know this matters and we’re going to do everything in our power to make change, is what struck us the most,” Dagan said.

The women voiced their commitment to share Connelly’s message of being aware of racism and being willing to speak out.

“We just really want to make sure everyone knows where we stand as a program, campus, community,” Plissey said.

Initially, the student-athletes shared the video only with Connelly, who was deeply moved by their gesture.

“I was crying my eyes out,” she said. “The fact they acknowledge that they are listening, they are learning, and knowing how the last couple weeks have been for me, that really meant the world to me.”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...