Martha’s Vineyard teacher Lisa Knight honored at State House

"Unsung Heroine" Lisa Knight, center, in front of the State House with Martha's Vineyard legislative liaison Kaylea Moore, left, and her niece Jenny Knight. — Photo courtesy of Kaylea Moore

The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women (MCSW) recently honored Lisa Knight, a physical education teacher and field hockey coach at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), as an Unsung Heroine of 2013.

A ceremony to honor Ms. Knight and 82 other women selected from across Massachusetts took place at the State House on Monday, April 29. The women were nominated by local legislators and selected by the MCSW, according to a press release issued the next day.

“Unsung Heroines are women who don’t always make the news, but truly make the difference in their communities, businesses or volunteer endeavors,” MCSW said.

State Representative Timothy R. Madden nominated Ms. Knight, at the suggestion of Kaylea Moore, Martha’s Vineyard legislative liaison. Ms. Moore, an MVRHS graduate, played on Ms. Knight’s state championship field hockey team.

“I was honored to nominate Lisa after hearing from several constituents of her commitment to the young men and women on Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Madden said in the press release. “She is clearly someone who quietly does wonderful work, never seeking fanfare. Her being recognized is long overdue.”

He added, “And what a terrific day we had at the State House. She seemed to be taken aback to be included in such a wonderful group of women, but she certainly belongs there.”

In a phone conversation with The Times last week, Ms. Knight described the experience as “an extraordinary day.” Allowed to invite two guests to the ceremony, she asked her niece, Jenny Knight, who lives in Boston, and Ms. Moore to attend.

Ms. Knight said she had a great time before the ceremony even started, thanks to Representative Madden. He led her on a tour of the State House.

Liz Brunner, a television co-anchor for NewsCenter at 5, hosted the ceremony. Ms. Knight said the 80 Unsung Heroines who attended were recognized individually. They received certificates and citations from Governor Deval Patrick, the MCSW, and their state legislators.

“It was great to hear all the stories of these women,” Ms. Knight said. “I was truly honored by the people who selected me.”

On her return home, she said she took some ribbing from some folks on the Island when they saw photos of her in a dress at the event, instead of her usual sportswear. “But I did have my flip-flops on,” she added with a laugh.

Ms. Knight has taught at MVRHS since 1987. In addition to teaching physical education and coaching field hockey, she also teaches adaptive physical education for special education students.

As part of the program she began about four years ago, Ms. Knight trains and prepares the students to participate in the Special Olympics of Massachusetts. This year’s team of eight is the biggest yet.

“Lisa has been a mainstay over the years in the classroom, on the playing field, and with the Special Olympics,” MVRHS principal Stephen Nixon said in an email to The Times in response to a request for comment. “She has dedicated her life to putting our kids first, and we are all quite proud of her achievement.”

In years past Ms. Knight also coached basketball and softball, and she taught health classes. Although she has always loved teaching and coaching, she told The Times that the students in her adaptive physical education program have given her a “second chance at life.”

“They have rejuvenated me,” Ms. Knight said. “Just when I thought I couldn’t do anything else, or I had kind of hit everything I wanted to, let me tell you, I was wrong. Because the energy I have gotten from them and the unbelievable life lessons that I’ve been taught by these kids are just beyond comprehension.”

While Ms. Knight expressed appreciation for the award, she was modest about accepting any praise for what she does. “I don’t do anything I do for the accolades; I do it because it’s what I love to do,” she said.

“If you could go to the Special Olympics and be hugged by a young child who never thought they could do it, it doesn’t matter who they are or what they are, it’s just their day,” Ms. Knight added. “And to watch them smile and say ‘I love you,’ and, ‘I’ve had the best day of my life today, thank you,’ you’re doing something right if you’ve got that going.”

The MCSW is an independent state agency created by legislation in 1998 to advance full equality and promote rights and opportunities for women in all areas of life, according to a press release. The initiative is underwritten by private sponsors and the MCSW Trust Fund, and no tax dollars are used to fund the annual event.