Mother's Day extra special for Northampton girls soccer coach Vanessa Butynski

Northampton girls soccer coach Vanessa Butynski, far right, with senior Ava Azzaro and Azzaro’s mother, Margaret-Ann, during Senior Night in Northampton last fall.

Northampton girls soccer coach Vanessa Butynski, far right, with senior Ava Azzaro and Azzaro’s mother, Margaret-Ann, during Senior Night in Northampton last fall. PHOTO BY ANDREA STARKOSKI

Northampton girls soccer coach Vanessa Butynski, left, hugs team captain Jordan Hutchins during Senior Night last fall in Northampton.

Northampton girls soccer coach Vanessa Butynski, left, hugs team captain Jordan Hutchins during Senior Night last fall in Northampton. PHOTO BY ANDREA STARKOSKI

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-10-2024 5:48 PM

Tears uncontrollably trickled down Vanessa Butynski’s face as she sat inside her Belchertown home.

The Northampton High School girls soccer team – which she’s coached since 2016 – was on a bus headed to Chicopee Comp for the opening round of the 2023 MIAA Division 2 state tournament, but for the first time all season, she wasn’t with them.

Butynski coached the entire fall campaign while pregnant and in her third trimester, and welcomed her second son, Chase, to the world with her husband Todd on Oct. 30, 2023 – just four days prior to the Blue Devils’ postseason game with Comp.

Butynski’s competitive nature, which propelled her to play soccer at the collegiate and semi-pro levels, told her she needed to be there for her team.

But the mother in her knew staying put with her newborn was the right choice. Northampton ultimately fell to Chicopee Comp 3-2 in a back-and-forth contest, ending its season – Butynski’s ninth with the program.

Not being on the sidelines crushed her.

“I actually cried,” Butynski said. “I know that it's a player's game, and I always coach so the players have autonomy, but as a coach, you always feel like you are a big role of the team and you can make big differences in games like that.

“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” she continued. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I'm having a kid, this is so great.’ But it was also, ‘Oh my god, I'm missing the end of the season for my team.’ It was heartbreaking.”

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High school coaches who are mothers are pressed with decisions like these all too often, and it’s part of what makes the gig – one they certainly don’t do for the money – as difficult as it is.

They work a full-time job and spend at least five days a week coaching, in addition to their other full-time job of being a mother. Butynski said her time management skills have never been as sharp as they were during her second pregnancy. Juggling those three aspects, on top of weekly obstetrician meetings, was overwhelming.

Yet one thought kept Butynski level-headed through it all: ‘This is what I love to do.’

“Being in my third trimester, while coaching, while holding a full-time job, was a lot,” she said. “But you kind of just push through it because you're doing what you love. I really enjoy coaching youth, especially females, so I feel like I make a big difference and I can be a good role model for them. And then it was kind of neat being pregnant, because they got to see the process of, obviously, my belly growing, and me going to appointments and talking a little bit about having a baby and all that. So, it was definitely challenging, but at the same time, very rewarding because I was able to still do it to the best of my ability.”

When Butynski had her first son, Miles, who is now 4, she was in her first trimester carrying him during the 2019 soccer season. Nobody could really tell she was pregnant, and it surely didn’t have the same affect on her coaching as the second one.

Given she played soccer at an extremely high level at UMass, Butynski likes to lace up her cleats and play with her team during practice. She finds it easier to demonstrate drills, show them how to do certain skills instead of tell them, and, most importantly, it keeps her in shape and brings her back to her playing days.

There was an adjustment period this season, however, because Butynski could no longer run around how she wanted. And with a team where only three of 22 players were seniors, a dozen of them freshmen or sophomores, it pained Butynski not being able to lead by example.

“I coach a lot by showing, illustrating and playing against them to make sure they’re competitive enough and try to keep them in check, but I couldn’t do that this year,” Butynski said. “I still think it went pretty well for having such a young team, but I think they're going to be in for it next season when I get back out on the field and go back to my normal approach.”

As the fall 2024 season does approach, Butynski will now have two boys watching her in her element for what will be her 10th season patrolling the sidelines at ’Hamp.

Those precious moments, even if her children don’t quite yet fully grasp or comprehend the importance of it, are completely priceless.

Butynski said she never takes them for granted.

“It's the little moments like after the game, when you see your kid running up to you to give you a big hug that I really enjoy,” Butynski said. “Miles is to the point where he's actually starting to watch the game a little bit, so I can kind of talk about the game with him. And Chase just being on me or around, you know, it's that experience of having them see me in a different light other than mom. Seeing me as a coach, and ideally inspiring them to want to play sports and see all the benefits of them and being on a team.”

While Butynski – along with all the mothers out there – deserves to be lauded every day, her family’s appreciation for her will assuredly be shown on Sunday for Mother’s Day.

Furthermore, she also has a mother and a grandmother to thank for their own sacrifice. A day full of memories to make and memories to reminisce upon awaits Butynski and her family on Sunday.

“As a mom, you become selfless. You really put others first and you're always thinking about your kiddos, their health and making sure they're developing appropriately,” she said. “I feel like Mother's Day is more of just a day to take a break. Take a breath and just enjoy having a family, enjoy being that person for them that they look up to. And on the other side of that, I have a mom, too, and I have a grandmother. So I'm in that generational sandwich where I'm still appreciating and celebrating my mom and grandmother, but now I get the chance to have someone do that to me. So it's really special.”