There is no “I” in team.
It is a common phrase you hear in locker rooms, on inspirational posters and in pregame speeches.
While it was an attitude ingrained in Beth Hennessy as a student-athlete at Westfield State, it also became the cornerstone of her professional philosophy.
Hennessy’s basketball career began as countless do…in her Northampton, Massachusetts backyard. When she was in third grade, her dad put up a basketball hoop where she spent many hours with her family. In the days before travel ball and AAU, the Recreation Department in Northampton provided Hennessy with the opportunity to perfect her game throughout junior high and high school. Her hard work culminated in a helping her team make it to the Western Massachusetts finals during her senior year of high school.
With graduation looming, it was time to plan her college future. When it came time to decide, several things factored into her decision to attend Westfield State.
“Going into college I was undecided about my major, so I wanted a school where there was a wide-range of experiences and courses,” Hennessy said. “The state colleges at the time had such a diverse and interesting curriculum, and knowing I wanted to be a student-athlete and play in such a highly competitive conference were big draws for me. Another factor of going to Westfield State was the proximity to home and I think that is a neat piece of the state system because you get to compete with the best of the best within the state.”
Being undecided with her major during her freshman and sophomore years gave Hennessy the opportunity to experience different academic opportunities. She eventually landed on sociology with the intention of working with children and families. Amid all her studies, she was making a name for herself on the Owls’ women’s basketball team.
Competing for Westfield State from 1983-1987, Hennessy etched her name in the school’s record books. She was the first women’s basketball player to score 1,000 points. Currently, she is second in free throws made (432), fourth in field goal percentage (.484), fifth in career scoring average (16.9) and sixth in total career points (1,370). She was a three-time MASCAC All-Conference honoree and an All-American nominee in 1987. In 1997, she was elected to the Westfield State Hall of Fame.
Despite all the honors and recognition, Hennessy knows it wasn’t something she could do on her own.
“To receive the recognition is about a developing a life-long connection with the university,” Hennessy said. “You work so hard and play as a team and the Hall of Fame recognition was such an honor. You don’t play for those reasons. You do it for the teamwork, competitiveness and the love of the game.”
Following graduation, she earned her master’s degree in education from American International College and became a classroom teacher in Connecticut for 12 years. She then went on to receive her sixth year in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut and developed a passion for teaching reading. That passion turned into a job as a reading specialist in an elementary school.
She still wasn’t done with school and would head back this time to Sacred Heart for her administrative certificate. All her previous experience of working on a team whether in college or with teachers in a school made her next career move an easy one. For the past five years, she has served as the principal at Central School in Simsbury, Connecticut.
Despite her college playing career ending over 30 years ago, the principles she learned helped shape her career philosophy.
“Being at Westfield had the small school atmosphere and it always felt incredibly supportive,” Hennessy said. “You knew your professor and could get help when you needed it. That was the same on the athletics side. You had great coaches and administrators who wanted to support the student-athletes. The foundation of that small, family feel school and the idea of what it really feels like to be on a team laid the foundation for my whole career. The philosophy I have is that collaborative practices makes the team stronger. The “we over me” starts when you play sports in a program that is as high level as the MASCAC conference and you have the support of your teammates, family, coaches and the administration. That is what I grew up doing and it laid the foundation for how I work with my team every day.”
These days Hennessy does make it back for the occasional Westfield State women’s basketball game and is proud to see the success it is having. As her niece prepares to decide on where to go for college, she makes sure to put in a plug for her alma mater, knowing how much that experience shaped her.