Together, the Ledyard High School varsity baseball team sang "Lean on Me" in the locker room before their emotional season opener. Senior Steve Strong led them in this tribute to a team member who died unexpectedly.
In November 2009 Matt Buriak, a three-sport athlete, collapsed on the football field and later died. The community and the team were devastated by losing a student and athlete who seemed to make everyone smile.
On Wednesday afternoon, Buriak's teammates got dressed for their game against Griswold High School. An empty locker and a solitary shamrock reminded everyone of their loss.
Coach Sam Kilpatrick had nothing but praise for Buriak, who would have been a junior and starting catcher this year.
He was "enthusiastic, willing to and wanting to do anything," Kilpatrick said.
Coach Kilpatrick and the varsity team decided to name the field after Buriak a few months after his sudden death.
Buriak's mother, Roberta Buriak, fought back tears when she talked about how much this field meant to her son.
"It was everything to him. He used to work for the school on that field and he'd come home and talk about it and we would tease him that that's your field," she said.
Buriak's teammates found all sorts of ways to honor their friend.
The catcher wore a necklace that Buriak used to wear. The team wore green t-shirts with a shamrock and the number 3 to remember the boy born on St. Patrick's Day who would have worn that number on his first year of varsity baseball.
Jack Porter, Buriak's teammate and best friend, said it hasn't been easy.
"It's been very difficult, especially when we are in situations like today when he would have been with us," Porter said.
Roberta and Leon Buriak threw out the first pitch and said their son would have been teasing both of them had they not made it over the plate.
"Matt would have been ecstatic. He was a catcher and loved the game. He would have made sure we got it over home plate."
The team says they're much closer after this tragedy than they were in year's past.
They will sing "Lean on Me" in the locker room before every game just like it was at his memorial service. Ledyard High School's Varsity Baseball team says that the bond that they have forged with one another will never be taken away.