By Christopher Smith
---- — Warren Cormier sat in the same place at every Andover High home girls basketball game.
His daughter, junior point guard Rachael Cormier, still occasionally peeks over to that spot in the stands.
“He’d sit right in the middle of the bleachers, first row down in front,” Cormier said. “One, because he did not have good eyesight. But two, so he’d be able to communicate with me while I was on the court.
“So now, sometimes I forget during the game that he’s not there and I look for him and I realize he’s not.”
Warren Cormier died of a massive heart attack on Aug. 27.
He was the main reason his daughter feels so passionate for basketball, or at least she did.
“Truthfully, without my dad, I kind of lost a lot of the love I have for basketball,” Rachael said. “Every game is really hard for me. But I have some of the best friends I have ever had on my team. They just do everything with me. So just knowing that I have that support system, it’s really helpful.”
Rachael keeps her dad’s Mass card in the pocket of her basketball bag. She also has a good cry before every game.
But through her pain, she has shown amazing strength. She has acted stronger than most could ever imagine. She gets up every morning and continues to live in the way her father taught her and the way that would make him proud.
First-year Andover girls basketball coach E.J. Perry attended Warren Cormier’s funeral and witnessed his daughter’s vibrant personality through such a difficult situation.
Perry said Rachael handled her father’s death with dignity and poise.
“I can’t believe she’s always smiling and I think about how much of an impact her dad had on her basketball life and also on her life,” Perry said. “She’s amazing to watch.”
Lessons to live by
The morning of Aug. 27 — the day before Andover High’s first day of classes for the new school year — Rachael Cormier signed up for a gym membership to get ready for the basketball season. She came home, talked with her dad briefly about enrolling at the gym and then she went to finish some last-minute summer assignments.
“And then I walked through his room to go to the kitchen,” Rachael said. “I saw him on the couch. It looked like he was sleeping almost. He was still in his towel from getting out of the shower. And he didn’t move when I came in the room, which was weird.”
Rachael called out to her father, but he didn’t respond. She shook him, but he remained unresponsive. She reached for her cellphone.
“While calling 911, I ran upstairs to my brother, Trevor, who was in his room sleeping,” Cormier said. “I was frantic. I was like, ‘You need to come downstairs. Something’s wrong with dad.’
“My brother’s trying to give him CPR and it’s not working. And then the ambulance finally gets there. My brother runs outside to direct them and I had to try to give my dad CPR myself.”
It’s not surprising that some of Rachael’s love for basketball died along with her dad that day.
Rachael took ballet as a girl before quitting dance around the third grade. Her dad then encouraged her to try other sports and activities.
“I naturally latched onto basketball,” she said. “He started off (teaching) the basics. As a third-grader, you don’t know if you’re going to stick with basketball for this long, but I think I’m naturally an aggressive person. So basketball was a nice fit.”
Warren Cormier became quite involved in his daughter’s basketball career. The Cormiers lived in Wilmington until Rachael’s seventh-grade year and Warren Cormier coached his daughter’s fifth- and sixth-grade teams as well as her in AAU basketball.
“The main source of our relationship was through basketball just because he loved watching me play,” she said. “I think he missed just five games my whole entire basketball career since the third grade.”
Warren Cormier not only taught his daughter basketball, but coached her on the most important part of life — family.
He always stressed the importance of her being close with her older siblings, Warren III, Danielle and Trevor.
“He didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” Rachael said. “His parents didn’t have a lot of money growing up. He didn’t care. ... My dad didn’t care about how much money we had. He cared about our experiences together.
“Family is definitely the most important thing to me. I know no matter what, I’m going to have my family with me.”
Rachael said every day still remains a struggle for her close-knit and large family. Warren Cormier was one of six siblings and his wife, Sharon, is one of six siblings as well.
“Some days are worse than others,” Rachael admitted.
She keeps telling herself that everything happens for a reason — whether she likes it or not.
“It happened because something else has to happen, too,” she said.
One thing that is certainly happening this season: Rachael is giving it all on the court for her dad.
“A hundred percent every game is for my dad,” she said.