Padecky: Petaluma’s ‘Madame’ gone, but her legacy lives on

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — The awards could be condensed into just two sentences. But trying to capture Sarah Wadsworth in two sentences is like trying to capture an elephant with a butterfly net. Too much elephant for the net. Too much Wadsworth for the two sentences. But we have to begin somewhere, so let’s begin with two short sentences.

Petaluma High’s Sarah Wadsworth is the 2012 Sonoma County League Tennis Coach of the Year. Sarah Wadsworth is the 2012 NCS Tennis Coach of the Year.

Petaluma High's Sarah Wadsworth

Petaluma High’s Sarah Wadsworth

More than 10 months after her death.

More than a year after she coached the Petaluma girls.

Those two honors are tributes, of course, to Wadsworth, but they are scratches on the surface. They don’t say why and how.

Morgan Intoschi is a junior who played for Wadsworth in the fall of 2011.

“She still is my role model,” Intoschi said. “She still is someone I look up to.”

Notice the verb tense Intoschi used. She spoke in the present tense, as if Wadsworth were going to walk into the room at any second and say, “Morgan, let me see your drop volley.”

Imagine how much an impact a person has to have on someone to be referred to like that. It’s the etching of one personality upon another, a permanent inscription of sorts that can’t be seen, only felt, somewhere near the soul.

“She was a force of nature,” said sophomore Maddie Thomas.

The girls — Thomas, Intoschi and Nicoline Pedersen — spoke of Wadsworth that way. Wadsworth was always directed movement, doing something for someone, somewhere.

“It was never about Sarah,” said Sonoma Valley girls coach Mary Kate Dreyer. “It always was about her kids.”

Depending on the object of her attention, Wadsworth prodded, pushed, demanded, cajoled, begged, badgered.

The end purpose was always the same. To make that kid a better tennis player, a better French student, a more evolved and involved human being.

Life is not a spectator sport; participate.

The girls were going to grow as athletes and students, and she was going to do her best to make that happen.

“I would be struggling with my confidence,” Pedersen said, “and after practice she would sit down with me and we’d talk. Why would I let things get to me? How could I keep that from happening?

“‘Clear your head’ she would tell me. ‘Let it go.’”

Live in the moment. Inhale it. Enjoy, prosper, thrive.

“Play every point as if it’s a game and then let it go and go on to the next one,” was one her favorite entreaties. Be positive. Find solutions, not excuses.

At the end of every two points, when the players would switch sides of the court, Wadsworth would meet her players at mid-court for counsel. Every time at every match at every change, the players said, she would be there.

Always.

Think of the words that are opposite in meaning of cold and distant. That was Wadsworth. She made it personal because life is personal. The kids, the school and the community have returned the favor.

The tennis bleachers have been painted purple with two white handprints and these words written above them in white: “We Love Madame.”

Madame wasn’t a nickname. And Sarah wasn’t the name she was called on campus. She was Madame, a French teacher with style and standards, which is one way to describe why there will be high heels on the high school’s tennis courts next fall.

Benches painted purple will be installed alongside the tennis courts.

Because of Wadsworth’s attention to high fashion and her fondness for high heels, each leg on every bench will be supported by a post in the shape of a high heel.

Next Aug. 21, if everything goes according to plan, the Sarah Wadsworth Tennis Courts will be christened.

If the result follows the desire behind it, a Sarah Wadsworth scholarship will have been established by then, an annual endowment to a student chosen to be a stellar example of that famous Wadsworth work ethic either on the tennis courts or in foreign language class.

Aug. 21, by the way, is the beginning of Petaluma High’s 2013-14 school year. It’s also Sarah’s birthday.

It’s probably coincidental, although the people on campus like to think it’s the proper cosmic order of things.

“When Madame was chosen (with her two posthumous honors),” said Petaluma principal David Stirrat, “it was completely appropriate and well-deserved. She is viewed around here as the epitome of a coach and teacher.”

So this past tennis season, when Casa Grande’s former No.1 player, Scott Robertson (2005), took over, the Trojan girls went 11-1 and were SCL co-champions with Analy. To a girl, they acknowledged that Wadsworth was an unseen but driving motivation.

To make their affection obvious to an outsider, “Madame” was stiched on their left sleeves.

They played for her as much as they played for themselves.

“I have never met, and I will never meet, anyone like her,” Thomas said. “That person doesn’t, and will never, exist.”

The way the three girls spoke, the feeling of intimacy they created about Wadsworth, I felt I had to ask a tough question.

“If Madame were here, right now, and you could say something to her, what would you say?”

“All we would say is ‘Thank you’,” Intoschi said, “and leave it at that.”

Ah, but once again, it’s difficult to leave Sarah Wadsworth with a simple sentence.

“And we miss you,” said Thomas, as she wiped away a tear.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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