APPLETON, Wis. — Gina DiBiase had just returned home from her overnight shift as an emergency-room nurse at Maine Medical Center when Dave Verrier pulled up in front of her Portland home at 8 a.m. Thursday.
She grabbed a suitcase, a blanket and pillow, and got in the car. The two then drove for 20 hours and nearly 1,300 miles before they arrived here early Friday morning, ready to watch the University of Southern Maine’s baseball team play in the opening round of the NCAA Division III national championships.
Verrier’s son is Matt Verrier, the senior catcher for the Huskies from Norway and Oxford Hills High; DiBiase’s son is Nick DiBiase, the sophomore left fielder from Portland’s Deering High.
“I was going to do whatever I needed to do to get here,’’ said Gina DiBiase.
“I came to watch my boy play and his teammates play,’’ said Dave Verrier. “This is a very unique group of kids. Not only are they great players but great kids too.’’
They weren’t the only two who juggled work schedules and hastily made travel plans to the Midwest. About 40 parents and friends of the USM players gathered before Friday’s game for a tailgate party in the parking lot of Fox Cities Stadium. They shared drinks and food but mostly companionship. They have become extremely close over the last three or four years.
“We text, we joke, we laugh,’’ said Dave Verrier. “If someone’s not able to make it, we make sure they get updates.’’
Ed Flaherty, the head coach of the Huskies for the last 29 years, called this one of the best groups of parents he’s been involved with. They travel with the team, cheer the players and provide meals between games at the home doubleheaders.
“It’s a wonderful group,’’ said Flaherty. “They cheer and holler but more important than that, they’re wonderful parents. And that’s the most important thing.’’
Most came last year when the Huskies made a run to the championship game only to lose to Linfield College of Oregon, 4-1.
They weren’t going to miss the return trip.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,’’ said Kathy Chadwick, mother to center fielder Forrest Chadwick of Gardiner. “It’s what we do.’’
The players appreciate it, especially being so far from home.
“It’s kind of cool that they’re all here,’’ said Forrest Chadwick. “My parents have been showing me this support my whole life. It’s nice to see some familiar faces in the stands, cheering us on.’’
Chadwick’s father, Lance, drove to Appleton. His mother flew in.
Andrew Richards, the Huskies’ junior pitcher, said his father, Patrick, also drove. And he appreciates the effort. “It’s nice to have someone here, especially being so far from home,’’ he said. “He’s watched me play since Little League. This is important and he wanted to be here.’’
Theresa Carey, the mother of senior first baseman John Carey of South Portland, has organized many of the activities that the parents participated in. Gina DiBiase will take over that role next year.
But Theresa Carey noted how difficult next year might be for her. Kathy Chadwick teared up when thinking about next year, when she won’t have a child on the team. “There’s something about these nine,’’ she said. “I should actually say this team because it’s more than just the nine starters. They’re all special.
“And it’s an amazing group of parents. It’s really going to be sad.’’
Theresa Carey said she might have to “adopt another player’’ next year to stay involved. She had hoped the Huskies would make the return trip. Bet on it, in fact. She didn’t go on the team’s Florida trip early this season, saving vacation time for a possible trip to the championship.
“I was hoping they would get here,’’ she said. “This is a good way to go out.’’
And while the Huskies lost their first game 8-1 to Wisconsin-Whitewater on Friday night, the parents were there for them afterward.
“It’s a parent’s dream to come here, to watch their son play in a World Series,’’ said Matt Glauser, father of junior outfielder Jake Glauser of Goffstown, New Hampshire. “It’s so much fun. Win or lose, it is fun.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: