×

Partying for CHS Principal Gene Connolly

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate Principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. The party included hundreds of pieces of cake. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School Principal Gene Connolly celebrates his 60th birthday Friday, while his wife, Patty, watches on. BELOW: Connolly’s cake, which features music notes and a guitar, is shown, along with a picture drawn of him on a paper plate. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday on Friday, April 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Saturday, April 16, 2016

The handmade sign on Concord High School’s gymnasium doors said it all.

“Party like it’s Mr. Connolly’s birthday.”

Concord High students and staff took those instructions to heart Friday morning. With balloons and streamers adorning the bleachers and hundreds of handmade cards hanging on the walls, Concord High staff, students and administration came together to celebrate principal Gene Connolly’s 60th birthday.

Diagnosed with ALS in July 2014, this year will be Connolly’s last at the helm of Concord High School.

Last year, his birthday was marked with a quieter celebration. This year, Concord High students decided to bring out the big guns.

On Friday, Connolly slowly rolled out onto the gym floor in his scooter, while students chanted his name, as the beat to 50 Cent’s song “In Da Club” thumped.

Packed into bleachers on all sides of the room, students broke into cheers as he motored around to each section of the gym, raising his hand to greet them.

His white hair pulled back in a tight braid, Connolly wore a shirt that said, “It took 60 years to look this good.” He was soon outfitted with more birthday gear: a sparkly sash, a tall party hat and glasses shaped like the number 60.

The high school band serenaded him with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” and students in the bleachers sang along, many sporting party hats themselves.

As his ALS has advanced, Connolly has lost the ability to speak or walk on his own. A slideshow flashed images of Connolly from previous years at school, attending sporting events, running around school, goofing off with students and dumping a bucket full of ice on his head during the ALS ice bucket challenge two summers ago.

Connolly’s already huge smile widened as he watched the presentation. He was flanked by his wife, Patty, and daughter, Ally, who laughed at the old memories as they wiped away tears.

Concord Regional Technical Center Director Steve Rothenberg said it was surreal watching the slideshow of memories from years past, especially since a portion of Concord High School’s student body hasn’t known Connolly before he was diagnosed with ALS.

“What it shows is how compassionate kids are,” Rothenberg said. “Kids accept you for where you are.”

No party is complete without games, and Connolly took part in a friendly but competitive game of musical chairs with other teachers and administrators. It may have been a bit of an unfair advantage; still sitting in his scooter at the end of about 10 rounds, Connolly was crowned the musical chair winner.

Connolly’s birthday party was organized by several student groups, including Student Government and the National Honor Society. The planning committee got help from teachers and administrators including Kaileen Chilauskas, Becky Robinson and Lise Bofinger.

Sophomore students Brady Coskren and Anna LeBrun said the party had taken two weeks to plan.

They said they were very happy with the end result, especially getting to watch Connolly’s reaction as he came in.

Both girls said Connolly continuing to work as his disease has progressed this year is an inspiration.

“He’s always been so welcoming,” LeBrun said, adding Connolly knows and can easily connect with each kid at Concord High.

“I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know him,” Coskren said, adding that watching Connolly this year has taught her a lot. “I’ve learned to be grateful for whatever I have, just to be happy I have the chance to do it.”

 

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)