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‘Up against the clock’: Long Reach athletics community rallies to help softball coach Melissa Boardman on her wedding day

Long Reach softball and field hockey coach Melissa Boardman (right) poses with Janet Kim and her husband James Cotton after her wedding at the Columbia Lakefront on March 19. Cancellations and closures due to the coronavirus altered the original wedding plans, but Boardman and Cotton said they were thankful for the help from members of the Long Reach community like Kim, who performed the wedding after getting ordained a few days only a few days prior.
Long Reach softball and field hockey coach Melissa Boardman (right) poses with Janet Kim and her husband James Cotton after her wedding at the Columbia Lakefront on March 19. Cancellations and closures due to the coronavirus altered the original wedding plans, but Boardman and Cotton said they were thankful for the help from members of the Long Reach community like Kim, who performed the wedding after getting ordained a few days only a few days prior. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Boardman)

Melissa Boardman and James Cotton aren’t strangers to challenges.

As a long-distance couple, the Long Reach High School teacher and the biotech in Delaware did the usual phone calls and travel to sustain their relationship.

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A few years later, the engaged couple would be faced with one of their biggest challenges yet — having a wedding during a global pandemic.

In the week leading up to their wedding, the couple faced a new hurdle every day — two venue changes, a new hair stylist and no one to perform the ceremony. But with the help of their friends in the Long Reach athletics community, Boardman and Cotton got married on March 19.

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“We always knew we’d make it work,” said Boardman, who also coaches softball and field hockey at Long Reach. “That’s what James and I always do. We knew we wanted to marry each other, and that was the most important thing. And I really am so grateful for everyone. I’m not from here, so the Long Reach community has become my family.”

“With love, you can press through a lot of stuff,” Cotton said.

Unlike some weddings that have been compromised due to the coronavirus, their wedding faced different circumstances. The couple — which had met more than two years ago in Ocean City when Boardman was at the bachelorette party for fellow Long Reach teacher Kristin Dickel — had planned for a small wedding ceremony at the Howard County courthouse, followed by a weekend honeymoon in the Poconos and a party with family and friends in late May.

“A big wedding has never been something that was super important to us,” Boardman said.

Melissa Boardman and James Cotton pose for a photo after their wedding ceremony at the Columbia Lakefront on March 19.
Melissa Boardman and James Cotton pose for a photo after their wedding ceremony at the Columbia Lakefront on March 19. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Boardman)

As everyone in Maryland and across the country began realizing that the coronavirus would drastically change American life for the immediate future, Boardman became concerned about her wedding when the state announced on March 12 that schools would be closed for at least two weeks starting on March 16.

The next day, Boardman was anxious at school and talking to Janet Kim, one of her closest friends and a special education teacher at Long Reach. Kim said she would be willing to help and threw the idea out about her getting ordained if they needed someone to serve as a wedding officiant.

“She’s one of my closest friends. We work together every single day,” Kim said. “I told her I would do anything I can to help.”

Boardman then went to the courthouse to inquire about whether it would remain open. After the courthouse was closed on March 16, she got her marriage license and remembered the conversation she had with Kim, who was Boardman’s assistant field hockey coach this past fall.

“It was getting stressful,” Boardman said. “We still wanted it to be perfect, and people asked why we didn’t cancel. This was our wedding, and we didn’t want to postpone it. Once Janet said she would get ordained, we knew it could work.”

Long Reach softball coach Melissa Boardman.
Long Reach softball coach Melissa Boardman. (Photo by Israel Carunungan/Shutter and Smile Photography)

Kim then filled out an application at MinisterNow.org and, within 24 hours, she was officially an ordained minister for life.

“It meant the world to me,” Boardman said. “We were even more excited because our wedding was even more personal. We had someone who means a lot to us who was marrying us.”

Also on March 16, Boardman’s hair stylist was forced to cancel after it closed down. She was able to find another salon — Hair Cuttery in Ellicott City — for the wedding. While she was in the chair on her wedding day, the hair salon found out it was being forced to close two hours later.

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“We were literally up against the clock,” Boardman said.

Through all the difficulties, none were more challenging than the venue. After the courthouse closed, the couple decided on Centennial Park, but a day before the wedding, the state announced the closure of all state parks, meaning Boardman and Cotton were once again searching for a venue. So, on the morning of their wedding day, Boardman and Cotton drove around Howard County, searching for a place to hold the ceremony. They drove by the Columbia Lakefront, where some students in the county go for prom pictures.

Janet Kim (middle) performs the wedding ceremony for Melissa Boardman and James Cotton. Kim got ordained a few days before the March 19 wedding after cancellations derailed the original plans.
Janet Kim (middle) performs the wedding ceremony for Melissa Boardman and James Cotton. Kim got ordained a few days before the March 19 wedding after cancellations derailed the original plans. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Boardman)

“The kids all take their prom pictures there, so we know how pretty it is,” she said. “We were walking around, and we knew there were a few options at the lakefront that were pretty.”

Less than an hour and a half before the 4:30 p.m. ceremony, Long Reach football coach Jamie Willis and his family went to pick up the wedding cake a few minutes after 3 p.m. Instead of closing at 3:30, though, the shop shut its doors 30 minutes early. With the doors locked, someone was still in the store and was able to give the Willis’ the cake.

“True friends really come through in the clutch,” Cotton said. “Some people have friends, but you don’t know the true definition of a friend until the rubber hits the road.”

At the wedding were Long Reach activities and athletics manager Joe Thomas, Boardman’s assistant softball coach Heather Clausen, the Willis family, Kim, Boardman’s parents and two other Long Reach teachers — all of whom followed the social distancing guidelines of staying six feet apart.

During the ceremony, with flowers and the lakefront in the background, walkers stopped to watch and later applauded the finale.

“It was absolutely beautiful outside, so people were walking around,” Boardman said. “People were stopping to take pictures and cheer for us.”

After the ceremony, a handful of the attendees went to the couple’s apartment for dinner since restaurants were closed for dining.

Melissa Boardman and James Cotton cut their wedding cake in their apartment after getting married on March 19.
Melissa Boardman and James Cotton cut their wedding cake in their apartment after getting married on March 19. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Boardman)

“It was cool to be a part of their wedding,” Kim said. “They’re both such good people and they have big hearts. After their ceremony, James went home and changed and cooked us all dinner. He had just gotten married, and he wanted to thank all of us for being there that he made us this amazing meal in their kitchen. That right there speaks volumes about the type of people they are, and it makes me thankful I have them in my life.”

The newly married couple canceled their honeymoon to the Poconos, but they still have their hands full. A week before the wedding, they closed on their house and have spent the last few weeks moving in.

“Now, instead of a honeymoon, we are moving into our new house together,” Boardman said. “Everything, as crazy as it was, worked out perfectly.”

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