Six-year-old Piper Sutton may only be a 4', 48 lb kidnergartener at Pemberville Elementary. . .but these days she's already as big, if not a little bit bigger in Eagles athletic circles than even legendary Eastwood football coach Jerry Rutherford.
But then again, that's what Eastwood sports fans have come to expect from the youngest of a proud, super-active Sutton family that has already included five other past and present Eagle athletes, and all-around involved children. . .who's essentially already been to more Eastwood home and away football, volleyball, soccer, baseball, and softball games, and wrestling and track meets in six years than most folks go to in a lifetime. And who in fact, made it out to her very first Eagles athletic event just days after emerging from the, err, "locker room". . .all of which has earned little Piper the distinction of being dubbed by locals as "Eastwood's Biggest Fan."
"Piper was born during Eastwood's track season," shares 37-year-old mom Dannelle Sutton, a 1995 graduate of Eastwood High School, and a 15th year PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) nurse at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, who along with husband Rob, a 40-year-old '92 grad of Waite, divides her time between working at Mercy Children's Hospital, taking care of the family's home, and supporting their talented brood's dizzying calendar of after-school sports and extracurricular activities. . .which these days includes volleyball and softball games for daughter Hannah, and football and baseball games, as well as winter wrestling meets for son Hunter, both 16. . .among a docket of other things. "So, we proceeded to bundle her up, and there she was, just a couple of days old, and at her very first meet!"
"Oh, it was freezing that day," she adds with a laugh, "but, we figured she'd have to get used to it, because this is what our family does! And then later, came the whole crawling stage, and it was just horrible trying to entertain a toddler in the bleachers! I even had little Eagle shirts made, with "Sutton, 2026" printed on the backs, so she could be just like her siblings, and that gave everyone a laugh. Everyone loved to get their baby fix in with Piper being around, and from the very beginning she was quite a big hit."
"Everyone knows Piper," continues Mama Sutton, "because she never misses a game! She dresses in all Eastwood colors, with a tutu and beads, and is out there cheering for the kids everyday. And the kids just love her, and give her hugs, and just walking through the football stadium on Friday nights. . .every student and adult who walks by says, "Hi, Piper," and smiles."
"It's funny," she says, "when Piper was younger, we think she thought everybody came to the stadium or gym just to see her, and not the game. And she would just ham it up! Today, she loves to mingle at the games. She wanders all around, and visits every family. In her lifetime, I'd guess Piper has attended literally hundreds of games, or over five years worth. She even travels to weekend volleyball club games all over!"
And while volleyball has indeed emerged as this young Eagle-great to-be's personal favorite sport out of the many she both frequents and dabbles in these days, little super-fan Piper is like other kids her age in at least one respect. And that's that she looks up to her big brothers and sisters, and loves to constantly hang out with them and support them in whatever they do. Both of which means that wherever Hannah and Hunter, and recent Eastwood grads Zach (20), Robbie (19), and Allison (18) go, or have gone with their various sports and extracurricular activities, Piper is sure to go, too.
For instance, still nine long years away from being eligible, or even old enough to step onto the big stage of an Eastwood court, or track, or diamond to compete as a varsity Eagle herself. . ."rookie" Piper has nonetheless already got more than a little taste of the big time via some of high school sports oldest, most-delicious, most time-honored traditions. Like pre-game "team feeds." And post-game snacks. And team pictures. All of which the youngest Sutton regularly, and eagerly partakes in. Without a single player, or coach, or parent batting an eye. Because the fact is, Piper is pretty much treated like a member of the roster or family. Wherever she goes.
Further, whenever Dannelle, Rob, and the rest of the Sutton clan pile into the family car, and rush off to yet another Northern Buckeye Conference volleyball match at one or another NBC gym, to watch Hannah fire down ace-after-ace from the service line. . .or up to Freedom Field on football Friday nights to cheer on Hunter as he totes the rock and attempts to snare interceptions as a running back and safety for Coach Rutherford's Eagles. . .just like Rutherford stalking his beloved sideline, it's a pretty good bet Eastwood fans will always see Piper in tow. Where her small voice is nonetheless often heard the loudest. And where she generally makes her rounds with the busiest social schedule in the stadium or gym. . .as she knows each Eagle athlete by first and last name, as well as their parents, and grandparents. All the while always proudly sporting what may as well be her trademark Eastwood red, white, and Columbia Blue.
Yes, as stated before, little Piper's quite possibly Eastwood's biggest, most-passionate Eagle volleyball booster. . .as on any given night of the week, she can be seen shagging and collecting caromming volleyballs during practices and pre-game warmups; then, standing on the floor with her high school friends during player introductions, where she gets to slap hands with the Eastwood volleyballers, as they run by, and high-five and fire-up the student section; and then, even plunking down on her own "reserved" seat on the team bench for both varsity and JV games! And it's the latter that's afforded her front-row access to already becoming quite a little student of the game (mom says she pretty much already knows all the rules); a keen eye for players on opposing teams (NBC's youngest scout, anyone?); and perhaps most importantly, that precious opportunity to spend time with, observe, and learn from older sister Hannah and all her aces (Piper is said to be working hard to perfect her jump-serve, too).
Still, without a doubt the biggest moment thus far of Eastwood's "biggest fan's" already-distinguished "career" came not on a volleyball court at all, but instead at Freedom Field during last fall's football campaign. For it was under those bright Friday night lights, at the Eagles' homecoming game versus Lake, that Piper went down in a little bit of EHS history, in one of the school's most-special traditions, when she was pretty much unanimously chosen by her high school friends as "Jr Homecoming Queen."
"The seniors said it was an easy choice," beams a proud Dannelle, "it had to be Piper! She said she wanted a "prom dress" to wear. She was given her own crown. She rode in the back of a truck around the track with the high school kids, and then walked across the field. She was really excited! She's always the one cheering for others. So, she said, 'The kids are going to cheer for me now?' She did awesome!"
And while this track season will begin Piper Sutton's sixth full-year of garnering applause, and making new friends, and giving it her all, and going the distance for her hometown of Pemberville, her schools, and her favorite teams, no matter what the season. . .make no mistake about it. She's not getting tired of it, and her interest is nowhere near waning. Even in this modern-day, ADHD era of Candy Crush video games, Facebook friends, Twitters and tweets, reality TV, and so many, many other shinier distractions. And that makes Mama Sutton very proud and happy.
"Piper has an awesome life," chimes in Dannelle thoughtfully. "We feel sports are important in our children's lives for all the "life lessons" they learn through them. To maintain good grades, to be active in such time-consuming sports. . .it's not easy. It takes a lot of self-discipline. Piper is learning time-management.
She knows she has to get homework done early, so we can go to games.
We're proud of her dedication."
"Piper is very competitive, and she does everything 100%," continues mom. "She plays T-ball. She has played soccer for five seasons, and scored seven of the nine goals in one season. She ran a one-time cross country meet, and signed up for 5-year-old volleyball club just this past winter. She goes to after-school youth group, and is involved in her church.
Being involved has taught her how to support others."
"Probably my favorite Piper story occurred after Lake High School was destroyed after the tornado," shares Dannelle. "Rob and the kids did a lot of volunteer work over in the area, and she looked at the school and said, "I'll bet those volleyball girls are so sad." She was so sincere. She identified how much a gymnasium means to an athlete. It's not just a building. It's their home."
"One of our senior volleyball player's father was killed in a car accident during the season," she goes on, "and Piper went to the funeral, gave her a hug, and made her a bracelet. Through sports, she's learned so much. Like how life's not always fair. And like how to be a good winner, a good loser, and how to handle things with respect. She's learned teamwork, where hard work will get you, and devotion. These lessons are definitely going to impact her the rest of her life."
The life of a little girl, with such a big heart, a big devotion to her family, her school and her friends, and her Eastwood Eagles, and big, big aspirations.
And who knows what Piper Sutton will become.
A senior homecoming queen one day? The first lady coach of Eastwood's football Eagles? A member of the US National Volleyball Team, with a killer jump-serve feared around the globe? The first woman President of these United States?
It could happen. She certainly possesses the dedication, the character, the out-going personality, and the warm smile for it.
She was born with it. She was raised with it. Right there in the bleachers at Freedom Field. On those cold afternoons, not so far away.