This story, originally published at 3:14 p.m. Nov. 7, 2023, was updated at 5:16 p.m. Nov. 7, 2023, to correct Hailey Anne Oristian’s cause of death.
In its third game of the season against Virginia-based Stone Bridge, the Quince Orchard Cougars were in a much-anticipated matchup of public school football powers from neighboring states.
On the sidelines for some of the Gaithersburg-based players and staff that day was an extra wave of emotion. Placed on the back of most players’ helmets for the 29-22 victory was a pink piece of tape that read “Hailey.”
Hailey is in reference to Hailey Anne Oristian, the valedictorian of Quince Orchard’s 2021 class. Oristian, who was enrolled at Clemson and served as a dance teacher at Bella Ballet in Gaithersburg, died as a result of unknown natural cases on Aug. 10, barely a month before the Sept. 14 game against Stone Bridge. She was 20 years old.
“To see that everyone was honoring her was really special and it felt nice to know her impact was felt by so many people,” said Ryan Dimmick, a member of the Quince Orchard coaching staff and Oristian’s cousin.
Almost two months after they first debuted and in search of its third consecutive Maryland 4A State Championship, the undefeated Cougars continue to wear Oristian’s memory on their helmets every week.
Oristian’s mother, Meaghann Diez, was also a Quince Orchard alumni, and expressed gratitude for the school’s continual efforts in honoring her daughter.
“It’s so wonderful that the school continues to go above and beyond in remembering Hailey and sharing all of her accomplishments at school,” Diez said. “They’ve just been very wonderful to us and it’s very appreciated. I can only say amazing things about Principal Beth Thomas and Jeff Rabberman, the athletic director. It’s been an honor to have everyone saying and doing such nice things for Hailey.”
“It just makes you appreciate everything you have”
Cougars’ senior offensive lineman Daniel Anderla recalled his mother developed a close working relationship with Oristian’s father prior to her passing. When Oristian died, the personal and professional toll it took on his mother was evident, he says.
Anderla credits his mother with originally voicing the idea of putting the tape on the helmet. It wasn’t long after that Anderla went to Head Coach John Kelley with the suggestion.
“That was kind of the spark,” Anderla said.
During her time at Quince Orchard, Oristian was a captain of the school’s poms team that performed at football games and a member of multiple honor societies.
“Not everybody knew her, but the guys that did know her, it’s something that hits home a little bit,” said Kelley. “… It just makes you appreciate everything you have because you never know when your time is going to be up.”
While some helmets still have pink tape, a number of players now wear sport decals where tape once was.
On the back of his helmet, Anderla has a decal with Oristian’s initials “HAO” on them. There’s an angel’s halo surrounding the A and angels wings on the outside of the letters H and O.
“Her and her family were such a big part of the QO community,” said Anderla. “She spent four years supporting us every Friday, I think it’s fair we put on a sticker for a season.”
“I’m blessed to be able to put it on every day”
Quince Orchard has not lost a football game since the 2019 state playoffs. The Cougars won the last two Maryland 4A State Championships and finished a third undefeated regular season.
The Cougars defense has five shutouts this season and its offense has eclipsed 30 points in six of its nine games. In its regular season finale against Sandy Spring-based Sherwood, The Cougars defeated the Warriors 64-6.
With its unblemished record, the Cougars earned the top-seed in the Maryland 4A West bracket and a bye for the first round of the playoffs. Kelley said the Cougars treated the time off as “a get better week” instead of a vacation.
Quince Orchard will open up its 2023 playoff slate with a home game against the Northwest Jaguars, the same program that defeated them four years ago, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday
Outside of its thriller against Stone Bridge, the fourth-seed Jaguars, have played Quince Orchard the toughest of any team this season. On Oct. 20, Quince Orchard traveled to Germantown and defeated the Jaguars 34-21.
“We have talented guys who want to win,” said Kelley. “So we just have to keep coaching these guys and get them in the right spot to peak at the right time.”
When the Cougars face off against Northwest, they will once again do so, with Oristian’s memory on their helmets.
“I’m blessed to be able to put it on every day,” said Anderla. “Just like she was blessed to experience every day.”
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