Glenelg field hockey freshman goalie Trinity Shackelford and her older brother, Zachary, shared a passion for sports. Zachary always did his best to attend Trinity’s games whenever he could.
On Nov. 6, a few days before Trinity and the Gladiators’ Class 2A state semifinal against North Harford, Zachary died unexpectedly at the age of 27.
Initially, Shackelford had no intention of playing with sports bringing a flood of emotions. However, she ultimately changed her mind and remained in net for the remainder of the Gladiators’ postseason run that culminated with a Class 2A state championship.
“Even though I was so upset and in such mourning over him, I recognized the opportunity that I had,” Shackelford said. “This was the week of semifinals and, at the time, hopefully state finals. That was my goal the entire season, to take my team to the semifinals and, hopefully, the state finals. I wanted to give them that again and that really pushed me to put it aside because a field hockey game takes only two hours of my time. I was willing to give up two hours just to work for my team, as they were giving so much support and love toward me. After what happened, it really inspired me. They all inspired me, my family and my team.”
Entering the season, Shackelford anticipated making junior varsity, knowing there were two goalies already on varsity. However, she began training diligently in June and was named the starting varsity goalie.
“I got the starting position as varsity goalie because of how hard I worked and I grasped onto that feeling the whole entire season,” Shackelford said. “That’s what I held onto, that feeling of making varsity because I earned that spot, I proved everyone wrong.”
But after her brother’s death, she noticed the traits that got her the job slowly fading away.
“At that moment I lost that feeling because I didn’t want to work anymore,” Shackelford said. “Anytime I looked at the field, a field hockey stick, any sports equipment, I just felt terrible. I felt like I wasn’t going to be happy again. In that moment I never thought I was going to pick up a stick again.”
After watching old games, Shackelford couldn’t resist returning to help the Gladiators in their most important games of the season.
“Seeing how hard they worked, it wasn’t fair to them that they could miss out on this probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being a two-time champion,” she said.
“In goal, I have two personalities, it’s my physical and it’s my mental. I put my mental and emotional side out of it. I only focused on my team; the only thing I cared about was them. So, I worked and I got myself straight. I showed up on that field. No matter how hard it was, if I was crying, upset or happy, I was going to show up and I was going to tell them I tried because it was for them. They didn’t deserve to be let down; I showed up for them.”
Trinity attended practice Nov. 9, the day before the state semifinal, but didn’t participate. That was the first time she saw her teammates since Zachary’s passing, offering a brief reprieve from her grief. After practice, the Gladiators had their traditional night-before-a-game pasta party. The team presented her with a card, including a personal heartfelt message from each player.
“It meant so much to me at the time because I was in such a rough place,” Shackelford said. “I was still undecided at that moment whether or not I was going to be there. Just seeing them and them just showing how much they truly care for me, even being a freshman on the team. How much they’re willing to bring each other up when something goes down, it meant the absolute world to me. I finally realized that family doesn’t have to be blood, it can be your friends, too.”
The Gladiators also planned a visual demonstration of support. Throughout the season, Shackelford wore two ribbons on her helmet, a red one for Glenelg and a purple one for her club team. At the pasta dinner, her teammates informed Shackelford that all of the coaches and players would wear light blue ribbons at the state semifinal in honor of Zachary’s favorite color.
“It was devastating news to hear what happened to Trinity and her family,” AJ Eyre said after the semifinal. “We go through this together. It was such an honor to represent Trinity and her family tonight with our stick tape and our ribbons. We have so much love for everyone on the team and using that as momentum to push through and just help Trinity through this time. This is a great way to keep her mind off everything.”
The state semifinal marked the first time Shackelford put on her goalie equipment since Zachary’s passing. Playing with a heavy heart, Shackelford earned her fourth straight shutout in a 6-0 victory. She shared warm embraces with teammates in goal shortly after the final whistle sounded.
“It meant everything, everything that I’ve worked for this season,” she said. “In that moment, all I felt was love, all I felt was at peace. That was the first time I ever felt that since I heard the news about my brother. That was the first game where he couldn’t be there because that was the thing that we shared; it was sports. My teammates being there because they knew how hard it was for me and they showed up for me. They did all that for me. I just felt such immense love, such immense support from all of them. I’ve never felt like that before.”
The semifinal win put Glenelg in its second straight state final where it faced Manchester Valley on Nov. 12 at Stevenson University. Shackelford stepped up on the biggest stage of her young career, posting another shutout in Glenelg’s 2-0 win. That closed an emotional stretch for the young goalie where she displayed her courage and mental fortitude, aided by the consistent support of family, teammates and coaches.
“One of the things I’m always going to remember is that I’m never alone,” Shackelford said. “No one on my team is ever going to be alone. We’re always going to be there for each other, no matter what, through the ups and through the downs. We’re always going to put the team first and me second.
“Personally, another thing that I’m going to remember is that no matter how hard things get, no matter what obstacle gets thrown my way, it’s not going to stop me. Nothing is going to stop me. If I put my mind to it, I can push through anything.”