Failure never fails to be one heck of a teacher and Stonington's Fernholz learned from it

Stonington goalie Peter Fernholz, right, scoops up the ball before New Fairfield's Braden Reilly (13) can get around Cole DeVoe (7) in a Class M boys' soccer state tournament game Tuesday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Stonington goalie Peter Fernholz, right, scoops up the ball before New Fairfield's Braden Reilly (13) can get around Cole DeVoe (7) in a Class M boys' soccer state tournament game Tuesday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Stonington — The cosmic sense of humor can be sinister sometimes, sort of like Tuesday, when the Kid Who Let The Ball Go Through His Legs found himself back in goal for the first time since.

And it was raining like it did for Noah, thus making the field and the ball more slippery than normal.

This is the story of Peter Fernholz, the all-conference goalie at Stonington High. It’s been a difficult, yet enlightening, past six days, a wonderful voyage of self-discovery, teaching us all over again to have faith in our failures.

Faith in failure?

Counterintuitive, perhaps.

But failure never fails to be one heck of a teacher.

Fernholz, purveyor of 12 shutouts this season, experienced the goalkeeper’s story written by Stephen King last week in the Eastern Connecticut Conference semifinals:

Overtime game, next goal wins. And the easiest ball he saw all night was headed his way.

And went right through the wickets.

“There was a cross,” Fernholz said Tuesday, after the Universe had something more redemptive in mind, “and not knowing the field got wet — and after the game I really noticed it — the ball skidded across the ground, right through my legs.”

Bears lose.

There’s no manual here on how to cope. Or even look your teammates and coaches in the eye.

But then Fernholz learned something the next day. And the next day. And the next day: Funny thing about life. It goes on. And you either do the Jim Valvano thing — don’t give up; don’t ever give up — or you let one mistake derail the unspoken valor of constant effort.

Fernholz, buoyed by the bon mots from the whole Stonington family, earned his 13th shutout of the season Tuesday. He was Peter Fernholz again, watching as his teammates threw New Fairfield down a flight of stairs in the first round of the Class M tournament, 5-0.

“My teammates came up to me every day,” Fernholz said. “I messed up. But they picked me up. At first, I admit, it was hard to look them in the eye. But I got a lot of support. If I let this hang over my head, we wouldn’t be able to keep this going. My coaches and teammates kept telling me what a big part of this team I am. Even people in the hallway at school.”

Then there’s this: Even as the ball eluded Fernholz last week, the Bears had yet to play their most important game of the season. That’s because it was Tuesday. The first stop on the road to the state championship. So there’s no time for anyone to feel too sorry for themselves.

“I learned that my coaches and my teammates believe in me. Even though I made a mistake, they didn’t care. We have something bigger to accomplish,” Fernholz said.

And they won’t accomplish it if their 13-shutout goalkeeper is thinking about the past. Maybe that’s why Stonington coach Paul deCastro reminded his players after last week’s game that Fernholz was hardly alone in making a mistake. Maybe that’s also why the Bears came out with some wrath Tuesday, scoring two goals (Max Wojtas, Will Cannella) in the first five minutes.

“Peter is a big part of what we’ve done. An all-conference player,” deCastro said. “I said to him, ‘look, you made a mistake. But you’re going to have an opportunity here to go from the goat to the hero. We’re going to need you. Don’t let your team down. We expect you to be mentally tough. It happens in sports. We have a chance to do something in this tournament.’”

They sure do. But maybe they already have. There’s an esprit de corps here among the Bears that feels genuine. Not every team and not all teammates would be as willing to forgive. Blame assessment is all the rage now. Except this group understands they all need each other. And so there’s no time for pouting, blaming or sniveling.

“It’s easy to point fingers,” deCastro said. “But if we really are a great team, we have to learn from what happened. I do think we have a chance. But we’re going to really need Peter. He’s going to have to make some big saves for us.”

Step One: check. The league semis were a duller ache by Tuesday afternoon. How ironic that fog, wind and rain could be the backdrop for such clarity.

“I’ve let that goal go,” Peter Fernholz said. We have other things to look forward to.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

 

 

 

 

 

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