GENEVA — Where one story ends, another one always begins. It is in these moments of transition in which those closest to us — our families — can serve as our greatest reminders of how fortunate we are.
With her mother and father beside her, Toni signed her national letter of intent on Tuesday afternoon in the Geneva High School Library. Next fall, she will play NCAA Division I softball for the State University of New York at Buffalo.
As Toni’s sisters Deovionna and Faith looked on, along with her nephew Kaiden, Geneva Athletic Director Randy Grenier, and her coaches, Rob Kersch and Nelson Santos, joy was abounding.
All together, it was proof that the building blocks of success start early in life, and lessons are learned from many people — it takes a village.
“I’m very excited, maybe a little nervous, but very thankful for this opportunity,” said Toni, who also has aspirations of majoring in criminology and possibly joining the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation someday.
“One of my favorite people is Derek Jeter,” said Toni. “I just admire the way he carried himself, and I hope that I can make people proud as well.”
For her father, Tony, a former athlete at Geneva High, she has what it takes, and more. “I’m very proud of her,” said Tony. “When I think about all of the hard work that she has put in — it has paid off.”
“I’m just so excited for her and this opportunity,” said her mother, Shell. “Since she started playing softball, eight years ago, the traveling and practicing hasn’t stopped. It’s been one big ride. Playing at this level, she is definitely breaking new ground for our family. She is very deserving.”
For the last three years, Toni Cunningham has sprinted out to her position at shortstop for the Geneva Panthers with confidence and passion. On the varsity squad, for her head coach Mindy Ritter, she has made her mark.
On her travel softball team, the Rochester Lady Lions, Toni has continued to blossom. For head coach Kersch and batting coach Santos, it has been an incredible journey.
“There are days when I just sit back and I am glad I can just watch her play,” said Kersch. “She’s a special talent, and she has all the intangibles. On the field, some of the plays I’ve seen her make have been amazing.”
“We’ve watched her grow up,” said Santos. “It’s been a honor to coach her.”
For Kersch and Santos especially, the two coaches have meant a great deal to Toni and her parents. “They have been with her through it all and I couldn’t have been happier with the two of them coaching my daughter,” added Tony.
A lot of people made this moment possible for Toni. From her family, including her sister Olivia, to her coaches and teachers, it has been a great ride and one that will continue.
From teachers like Rocco Campagna and Lauren Natti, in social studies and physical education, respectively, there has always been support for her in school along the way.
When she competes on the diamond for the University at Buffalo Bulls, it will be with the knowledge that her support staff — her village — is always behind her.