Joe Rocha’s daughter, Catarina, is an All-American in cross-country, has one of the top 10 indoor mile times in the nation and wins just about every one of her races.
Yet the Peabody High cross-country coach's proudest moment, as a father and a coach, was not at Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals or a state meet at the Reggie Lewis Center.
It was after a regular Northeastern Conference cross-country race early last fall.
"You finished your race and rested for maybe two minutes," Joe Rocha said, his voice cracking with emotion. "And then you went back and helped a special needs kid run the course. That was when I was most proud."
Joe Rocha's words poignantly accented the sentiments of all the city and school officials and students on hand at Peabody High yesterday, where the Tanner City recognized both Catarina Rocha and Hayley Dowd for earning Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year honors in girls cross-country and girls soccer.
Gatorade selects a Player of the Year from each state in a variety of sports. The selection process is based on athletic achievement, academic excellence and character.
Rocha was the Division 1 state cross-country champion, and Dowd helped Peabody win its first state title in girls soccer and is also an All-American. They're both in the top 10 percent of Peabody's junior class.
"I talk a great deal about Peabody pride, and that's what we have in these two young ladies," Mayor Ted Bettencourt said. "They are two outstanding students and role models."
Sitting under Gatorade banners that will hang in the Peabody High field house, Dowd and Rocha were joined on stage by Bettencourt, Superintendent Herb Levine, Principal Ed Sapienza and athletic director Phil Sheridan. Also in attendance were City Councilors Tom Gould and Dave Gravel, as well as School Committee members Tom Rossignoll and Jarrod Hochman.
After speeches by the officials, Joe Rocha and girls soccer coach Dennis Desroches, Bettencourt presented Dowd and Rocha with their Gatorade Player of the Year trophies and flowers.
"Two girls winning a Gatorade award in the same school? I don't know if that's ever happened before, but it's awesome," said Dowd, who will play at Boston College. "This is a huge honor, and to share it with Cat, since we grew up together playing soccer forever, is amazing."
Rocha was an NEC all-star in girls soccer as a freshman before taking up running full time. Like Dowd, she said she was most proud of her team's accomplishments last fall.
"I'm truly humbled, and I look at this as a team award," Rocha said. "The boys and girls cross-country teams have grown very close, and that we both qualified for All-States in the same season for just the second time ever is what I'm proud of."
Dowd is already Peabody's all-time leading scorer with 164 points and thanked her parents, Sean and Sandra, and her brother, Riley. Rocha, who has won state titles in cross-country, the mile and the 2-mile, was grateful to her parents, Joe and Gina, and younger brothers Claudio and Marcello.
"We're so proud as a school system and as a city," Levine said. "Whatever is inside of you that drives you and doesn't drive other people is remarkable."
Peabody's varsity coaches were also well-represented, with football coach Scott Wlasuk, boys track coach Fernando Braz and softball coach Butch Melanphy among those turning out to support Dowd and Rocha.