SCSU comes together to mourn the loss of a student cheerleading assistant coach


SCSU’s cheerleading team looks to each other for comfort during the moment of silence for the passing of their assistant coach before the Men’s basketball team took on UNH. Photo Credit: Aaron Berkowitz

Aaron Berkowitz – General Assignment Reporter 

SCSU’s cheerleading team was still in disbelief of the news of their assistant coach and former teammate, Kayla Donnelly-Smith passing away when they entered into the Moore Field House for the men’s basketball game against UNH.

“It doesn’t seem real,” said Rebecca Leonard, senior communications major and member of the cheerleading team. “When I heard what had happened I was in shock and didn’t believe it at first until I did some research.”

Donnelly-Smith was a junior at SCSU from Bellemore, Long Island that was killed when she was struck by an out-of-control vehicle on I-95 during the snowstorm on Feb. 2.

Leonard said Donnelly-Smith was one of the first people she met when she came to Southern and they had been friends ever since.

Donnelly-Smith became a part of their coaching staff midway through the season this year and really pulled the team together, said Leonard.

“She was everything to us,” said Leonard. “She was really the glue that held us all together. “

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Players, cheerleaders and supporters paused for a moment of silence before the basketball game. Photo Credit: Derek Torrellas

Desirea Garcia, senior political science major and member of the cheerleading team, said Donnelly-Smith played a role that no one will ever be able to fill and the team credits her with a big part of their success. She also said she was a very special person outside of the gym as well.

“You could go to her for anything,” said Garcia. “If you weren’t happy with the way something was going on the team you could always go to her and she would be there to listen.”

Garcia and Leonard said they went out to celebrate Donnelly-Smith’s 22nd birthday at the end of January and it’s a memory that they will hold onto forever.

“Her smile lit up the room,” said Garcia. “It was one of the best nights we have had in a while.”

In times of tragedy, such as this one, the support shown by peers goes a long way, said Leonard.

“So many people have been supporting us and other squads have been reaching out to us through social media,” said Garcia. “By people showing that they understand how much she meant to us really means a lot to us as a whole.”

Patrick Dilger, Director of Public Affairs, sent out a campus wide email encouraging any students who are experiencing emotional trauma or difficulties from this tragedy to talk to someone.

“The university’s counseling services are available for support or to provide you with information about ways that you can take care of yourself at this difficult time.  Our personal counselors are available for immediate walk-in consultations Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Please call (203) 392-5475 for more information or to make an appointment with a counselor. Services are free and confidential and do not require use of health insurance,” Dilger’s email reads. “The University community is deeply saddened by the untimely passing of this vibrant young woman and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to Kayla’s family and friends.”

“We will miss her and her infectious laugh forever,” said Garcia. “You could be in the worst mood or come to practice upset, but one look from Kayla would just make you smile even on your worst day.”

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