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‘We all played for her’: Severna Park girls soccer honors fallen friend Imani Sawyerr, beats Annapolis

Every Severna Park girls soccer senior knew Imani Sawyerr. Their friend, whom senior Olivia Nicholson remembered as bright and welcoming, stayed on their mind as they passed the ball around during pregame warmups while wearing T-shirts with, “You Matter” emblazoned on them. She stayed on their minds through the whole game.

She stayed on their minds as they walked back to the sidelines at the game’s end, a 2-0 win over Annapolis under their belt.

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“In our hearts, we all played for her. Even on the sideline, when we were [tied 0-0], we were like, ‘We need to pull this out for Imani,’” Nicholson said.

Before the game, the Falcons held a moment of silence for Sawyerr, a passionate dancer and senior at Severna Park High who died by suicide on Feb. 17. Some Severna Park players wore purple masks and all wore suicide prevention shirts before the game and when standing on the sidelines.

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“We want people to know we’re there for them,” Nicholson said. “We wore the shirts with ‘You Matter’ because we don’t want anyone to feel alone. You can very easily feel alone. We don’t want anyone to have to go through that again.”

Severna Park athletes annually participate in the “Out of the Darkness” walk held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in September.

The Falcons girls team usually brings music, signs and positivity for those who need it. This time, the Falcons, especially their seniors, will walk with heavier steps.

Nicholson expects more Severna Park athletes will come out to the walk this year. It didn’t matter who you were, academic or not; Sawyerr would partner with you in class and show you kindness, Nicholson said. Sawyerr aspired to practice law, according to her obituary.

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Severna Park High has struggled with suicide in past years. The student community held a rally In 2019 calling for more resources for mental health for Anne Arundel County Public School students.

“There is an issue. Our school needs to, there needs to be more done,” Nicholson said. “I think our families will get involved. Of course, we’ve had walks and protests, but it’s not going away. We need to keep pushing forward and breaking the stigma.”

The road to winning this special game 2-0 was not clear for Severna Park.

The Annapolis defense collectively staved off a typically lethal offense for more than 50 minutes, often forcing the Falcons to take high and wide shots more than direct attacks on goal. When Severna Park did pepper a more direct shot on goal, it couldn’t break through Panthers goalkeeper Ashton Anderson (16 saves), who captured, kicked and punched out every would-be goal the Falcons flung at her — except two.

Severna Park coach Rick Stimpson knew as long as his team remained persistent, they’d find their way in.

“We switched to a more attacking formation,” he said.

Severna Park girls soccer player wore "Walk to Fight Suicide" T-shirts during warm-ups to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention on Thursday.
Severna Park girls soccer player wore "Walk to Fight Suicide" T-shirts during warm-ups to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention on Thursday. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

All evening, Severna Park sophomore Sydney Holmes stalked the box, testing shots off every corner of the Panthers defensive zone.

When her moment came, midway through the second half, Holmes launched a shot that pounded the back of the net and, finally, handed Severna Park the advantage it was looking for.

When the levee broke, it left a gaping hole. Just three minutes later, Falcons sophomore Felicia Fishburne sped toward Anderson and netted the second Severna Park goal, a graceful, spinning shot that slid past the Annapolis’ keeper’s feet.

“It was that extra drive we needed — to make a difference, to make it mean something for her,” Nicholson said. “That’s what it meant to the senior class especially, that we could all do it for her.”

The Falcons girls soccer team raised more than $2,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention before Wednesday’s game. Donations can be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at afsp.donordrive.com.

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