Obviously, the late Keri Lynn Stromski wasn’t present at Pulaski Sports Complex to watch Thursday afternoon’s proceedings, but her fighting spirit — a spirit exemplified by her long, courageous battle with stage-four breast cancer — was very much in evidence.
After conceding the Suffolk County Division I girls lacrosse game’s first five goals to Bay Shore, Riverhead battled back to pull to within 10-9, which was the final score in Bay Shore’s favor.
Had Stromski been watching in the stands, she undoubtedly would have heartily approved of Riverhead’s perseverance and flashed the radiant smile she was known for.
Stromski, who was a popular Aquebogue Elementary School kindergarten teacher, died April 6. She was 48. The Jamesport woman left a legacy of advocacy for breast cancer awareness.
Adding to that legacy was the North Fork Breast Health Coalition announcing that it has renamed its newly created Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund in Stromski’s name.
NFBHC vice president Melanie McEvoy Zuhoski made the announcement in a pregame, on-field ceremony that included remarks by several Riverhead players. McEvoy Zuhoski said the fund will provide monies to active labs of oncologists who are doing cutting-edge research on stage-four breast cancer. It will also provide additional financial support and resources to patients from the North Fork and Riverhead area, who are dealing with a late-stage breast cancer diagnosis, she said.
Stromski, the Riverhead News-Review’s 2013 Educator of the Year, detailed her bout with cancer on social media. In one poetic blog post in 2019, she wrote poetically: “To summarize one’s life as a ‘lost battle’ diminishes the years of living that existed. It dilutes the magic of the soul that walked through the years that they were given here.”
McEvoy Zuhoski, a two-time early-stage survivor, described Stromski as a “true force of nature.” She said the two became friends while undergoing chemotherapy at the same time. “She was so inspiring for a lot of people,” said McEvoy Zuhoski.
That includes former students, among them members of the current Riverhead team. In postgame interviews, they recalled memories of Stromski’s bright smile, reading books to students sitting on a carpet and showing them her own way of consuming cupcakes (cutting the cupcake in half and then eating it like a sandwich). “Since that day, I’ve never eaten a cupcake any other way,” said junior midfielder Ava Lily Sumwalt.
Savannah McDonald, a junior attack, called Stromski “a Riverhead legend.” McDonald continued: “She was a fighter. She kept fighting till the end of it, and it really shows how strong she was, how she never gave up, and that is one thing I will always carry on — never to give up.”
Junior defender Sophia Haupt said: “Looking back at the pictures, you can just see her smile in everything. Every picture, there’s never a picture where she’s looking away or there’s never a picture where her face is flat; there’s always a smile on her face in every picture, and I think that’s what I’ll remember most.”
Makayla Brown never was a student in Stromski’s class, but the junior attack said every year she polled fellow students, asking them who their favorite teacher was. The same answer was repeated time and time again: Ms. Stromski.
The Blue Waves wear Stromski’s initials, along with a pink ribbon, on their warmup shirts. “It just helped us remember that we’re not playing for ourselves, that we’re playing for a greater cause, someone outside of ourselves,” said Haupt.
Junior midfielder Rachel Rempe said Stromski “loved her students. She would have done anything for her students.”
The NFBHC said it raised over $22,000 (more than double the goal) for the fund through a raffle in March. All proceeds from the sale of items at Thursday’s game are to be donated to the NFBHC in Stromski’s name, said McEvoy Zuhoski.
Rob Stromski, Keri Stromski’s husband, participated in the ceremony along with his daughters, Madison and Morgan.
“I would just like to thank the North Fork Breast Health Coalition for keeping the memory of my wife alive,” he said in an interview afterward. “She was a big advocate for stage four, and I feel the same way. We like the organization. They do a lot for local people. They helped us when we needed it, and Melanie was great and their organization is great, so it’s definitely a good cause that gives back to the local community.”
McEvoy Zuhoski said the fund is “something that will be part of [Keri Stromski’s] legacy and live on forever.”
Jamie Dmert’s free-position goal gave Bay Shore (5-8, 5-8) a 10-6 lead before Riverhead (3-10, 3-10) replied with goals by Elisabeth Hanham, Rachel Rempe and Annalise Olsen within a span of 2 minutes, 2 seconds late in the second half. Riverhead’s last chance for an equalizer was lost when Bay Shore’s Ellie Provda collected a ground ball in her own end with about 40 seconds left and the Marauders ran out the clock.
Ava Lily Sumwalt led Riverhead with four goals. Elisabeth Hanham had two goals and two assists. Rachel Rempe scored twice. Mackenzie Dorr made 11 saves.
For Bay Shore, Elizabeth Schmutz put up five goals and Sophia Debonis bagged two. Dmert and Emily Scorcia each had a goal and an assist and Provda scored one. Riley Boone stopped 10 shots.