WILMINGTON — There is a tendency, often because of their youth, for talented high school athletes to lay blame with lesser experienced teammates for sports seasons that didn’t turn out as well as anticipated.
And then there is Wilmington High School’s Chris Stokes, a three-sport varsity athlete, who took it all in stride when wins were scarce for the teams he was part of during his senior year. In fact, Stokes was mature beyond his 18 years when he actually put a positive spin on the shortcomings.
“It kind of depends on how you look at it,” Stokes answered, when asked how he felt about his participation with a trio of struggling teams. “For me, it did make things tougher, but at the same time, it gave me an opportunity to foster some of the younger kids and help them grow into their sports. When they find success in the future, I’ll hopefully be able to say that I played a role in their development.”
Stokes, a lifelong Wilmington resident who recently graduated as a member of the Class of 2019, will soon make the trek to Indiana to join the Fighting Irish family at historic Notre Dame University. He’ll bring with him a number of scholarships, thanks to his feats on the baseball mound, as well as his academic successes and a 4.1 GPA.
“Sports participation at Notre Dame, whether it’s a club team or some other group, isn’t quite on my radar at this stage,” said Stokes, once again showing responsibility and sound judgment which was obviously instilled by his grandparents and parents, Chuck and Kristen. “My focus will be on the academics. I’m pretty sure I’ll study political science and later, maybe go to law school.”
The scholarships Stokes has earned include an award from the Wilmington Booster Association, the Wilmington Little League Scholarship, and from the Wilmington Police Department, the Jack Maguire Memorial Scholarship. Stokes was also recently honored with the Lawrence Cushing Award which “demonstrates scholarship, sportsmanship, and athletic ability.”
When his senior year got underway last September, Stokes returned to lead the Wildcats golf team with three independent match wins in twelve tries. The team, coached by the highly-respected Stephen Lynch, suffered deep graduation losses and struggled through a winless 2019 season.
“It seems to be the story with many of the Wilmington sports programs this year but with golf, we were definitely in the midst of rebuilding,” explained Stokes, who was the team captain in his final season. “We lost as many as ten players, basically returning just three. I was the number one player, Zach Kincaid was number two, and number three was Gavin Kelsey.”
Stokes was proud of the improvement in his golf game from junior to senior year that saw him transition from the eighth spot to number one. He was also pleased, despite the team’s record, with his individual ability to keep matches close enough for a possible team win.
Next up for Stokes was the winter season and basketball team led by Coach Dennis Ingram. In a recurring theme, the Wildcats sent a depleted squad to the hardwood and managed only five wins in a twenty game campaign. That result, however, proved enough for the team to land a North Division 3 tournament berth via the Sullivan Rule, which permits small schools like Wilmington to participate in large-school conferences.
“Sadly, the tournament didn’t go that well for us,” said Stokes, referring to a No. 3 Shawsheen 70-56 defeat of a No. 14-seed Wilmington in a first round mismatch. “Like golf, the basketball team didn’t have the benefit of many returning players. But it was a great bunch of kids with a lot of raw athletic talent. I think that team will be good in the near future.”
According to the baseball prospect website, Prep Baseball Report, right-handed pitcher Stokes wields a fastball in the vicinity of 80-81 miles-per-hour, a changeup measured at 74-75, and a curve clocked around 69-71. With the Wildcats, he wrapped up a stellar pitching career with an ERA of 2.06, a BAA of .221, and a WHIP of 1.29, while over his three years on varsity, the team registered 39 wins. Unfortunately, the baseball program also sustained deep personnel losses, much like golf and basketball, and failed to get on track this year.
“We lost twelve seniors coming into this baseball season and we knew there would be a drop off,” said Stokes, who paid tribute to coaches Aldo and Brian Caira. “There were a couple of times that we won back-to-back games but we could never put together a real winning streak. But at the same time, our perseverance won out because we didn’t have a losing streak, either.”
It is said that the last game in a high school athlete’s career is the one most remembered. But for Stokes and the rest of this season’s Wildcats squad, the 11-1 defeat dealt by Dracut in the preliminary round of the MIAA North Division 3 tournament would best be forgotten. Instead, Stokes would rather talk about his sophomore season.
“Two years ago, we won the league and went undefeated in our division,” he shared. “We were 9-0 and were scheduled to face Burlington in a night game. It was such an exciting time and we had a chance to go undefeated. We beat Burlington and looking back at the magnitude of the game and that season overall, it was really something special and I was happy to be part of it.”
And it goes without saying, that Wilmington High School athletics was happy to have Stokes representing the school for the last four years.