On the evening of October 12, 2017, a seventh-grade Bella Goodwin ’23 sat down to write a letter. She typed it out quietly and out of her parents' view. It was a letter expressing interest in something she was determined to achieve, and, when her parents told her no, she took matters into her own hands. It started out, as Bella usually does, with confidence:
Subject: I dream of Pingry
To whom it may concern,
Hello, my name is Bella Goodwin. I’m writing to you today regarding the probability of me enrolling in your district for high school. My parents… feel as though it would be appropriate for me to take part in the high school experience here in Basking Ridge. I, however, would personally enjoy this amazing opportunity…
It was on a recent Sunday in April, when Coach Carter Abbott and her husband were driving up Pingry’s long driveway. It was quiet and chilly on the empty campus when Coach Abbott’s husband spotted someone. “Carter,” he asked suddenly, “isn’t that one of your players?” There, cutting a lonely figure walking across the field, was a lacrosse player all by herself. “It’s Bella,” recalls Coach Abbott, both surprised and not. “Walking with the ball bag and her stick on a Sunday morning at 10, out to the field to do her work.” She had come to practice—by herself, with no coach, no teammates, and certainly, no fanfare—and she had one thing on her mind. “She was just going to shoot,” says Coach Abbott. “She was just going to shoot.
And, at this, Coach Abbott pauses for emphasis, and, perhaps, exhaustion at the sheer dogged spirit of her player.
Some people go hard. Board game? It’s on. Backyard basketball? Lace up—if you dare. They have no off switch to their particular and peculiar brand of magic. Most of us—let’s call ourselves regular folks—assume, when we see individuals of extraordinary talent, that they are born with it. We don’t see the countless hours spent alone, trekking across a field to practice by themselves. And besides, we see that as work, and they see that as fun.
How many seniors sacrifice sleep on a Sunday morning for a practice of one?
Some people—most people—are content to be good. But few people—those rare people—must be The Best. They simply will not accept less for themselves. When they fail, it’s like an itch that must be scratched. They have to be The Best where it counts: in the games, scoring goals, getting assists, racking up wins. Yet they also have to be The Best where us regular content-to-be-good folks think it really, truly doesn’t count: the drills, the scrimmages, the warmups, that friendly backyard pickup game that went from casual to ferocious real quick. That’s because, for those rare few It. All. Counts.
Bella is known for her dominance as a lacrosse player. She was heavily recruited and committed to play lacrosse for Division I Duke University. Her on-the-field heroics attract headlines (“Goodwin Rewrites Pingry Record Book”; “Goodwin Makes History as No. 2 Pingry Defeats Voorhees”; “Goodwin Helps Pingry To Stay Hot With Win Over Glen Ridge”). Yet her athleticism prevails at whatever she sets her mind to, and it’s been said that any sport Bella tries she is The Best.
During her freshman year, she decided to give field hockey a try for the first time. “Just for fun,” says Bella. And, just for fun, she became the leading scorer on the team—as a freshman—never having played field hockey before. She nearly won three varsity letters during her year as a freshman—the only thing that could halt her inexorable march was a literal pandemic.
Her sophomore year, she decided to play soccer, and, having found that she contributed to the team’s success quite a bit—they won a state championship that year—she played it again her junior year. Then, in her senior year, she switched back to field hockey. Having only played field hockey for those brief three months back when she was a freshman, the senior Bella Goodwin got back into the game and was named 2022 All-Division Second Team. Oh, and she dominates in basketball, too—she was captain her junior and senior years, and once again named to the 2022-23 All-Division Second Team—as evidenced by her participation in the spring sports pep rally, when she hit the half-court winning shot, as if to remind the school that yeah, she could beat you here, too.
She holds a dizzying array of records: the most goals in a single game (11); the most points in a season (156—that’s at an average of 6.8 points a game); the most assists in a season (56); and the most career goals (an astonishing 243). She is the all time leading scorer for Pingry’s girl’s lacrosse with 382 points, and the #2 ranked senior in the entire country. These extraordinary numbers are even more impressive when one takes into account that their tally was interrupted by Covid. It seems not even a pandemic can stop her, after all.
There is simply no off switch to Bella Goodwin. If there is one word that keeps coming up when describing her, it is relentless. It is the word Coach Abbott emphasized repeatedly when describing her player.
Back on that October night, Bella continued typing her letter:
I’m a great athlete as I take part in club teams for soccer, lacrosse, and basketball, as well as the middle school teams. Last year for lacrosse I played on the 2022 A team for T3, even though I’m a 2023. I play for Morris Magic Basketball, my team and I won first in the bracket going undefeated for the season. I play on the Legacy A team for soccer, I’m one of the few 7th graders as most of them are in 8th grade.
Going to Pingry would also mean having to leave my many friends at school, but I’m positive I could make new ones…
According to her mom and dad, Bella was always competitive. “Everything is a competition for her,” Mrs. Goodwin says. “Everything is a challenge. She just looks at life that way.” She started playing lacrosse in Grade 1, playing on the boys team, as girls lacrosse starts later, and she simply would not wait. “She loved the contact,” says Mrs. Goodwin. By the time she got to Grade 5, she had made up her mind. “I decided that I wanted to play in college.”
There is no halfway when it comes to Bella Goodwin. “She gives her whole heart on the field, in whatever she plays or does,” her mom says. “But in real life, she is like that, too. And I think that’s part of her competitive nature.”
When she was very little, her parents enrolled her in dance. The dance classes culminated in a recital, with all the dancers twirling and curtsying onstage at the end. When her parents found their beaming daughter backstage, she had just one question for them:
“Who won?” she demanded. When they gently explained to her that no one won, the performance itself was the reward, she turned to her dance instructor and asked incredulously, “Who did I beat?” Much to her dismay, she got the same explanation.
“And that,” says Mr. Goodwin, “is when we took her out of dance.”
The letter to Pingry’s admissions office continued:
Last year in 6th grade, I made high honor role every marking period and my finals finishing at A’s and above. Last year I also won an MVV award, which not only represented my high academics but my incredible character too. I was also selected to be a host of our school talent show, one of two from my team. Furthermore, I took part in the academic bowl, where I was one of the representatives elected by my peers to answer a numerous amount of questions regarding a book we had read. To conclude, in science my team of three and I traveled and raced our solar cars against other schools. This was meant to educate people on how to save energy and making our planet healthier. I was the speaker explaining the engineering of our solar powered car. We then took home the bronze medal in engineering.
Dean of Student Life for Forms V/VI Julia Dunbar got to know Bella when she taught her in her AP European History class this year. “Even before I taught her, I knew a little bit about her,” says Ms. Dunbar. She would see her in the hallways, always with a smile. “She is someone you know from just being around the building.” Having known Bella as an athlete and from her larger-than-life presence, Ms. Dunbar was delighted to discover Bella as a highly motivated student. “A lot of people see her as an athlete and a big personality,” she says. “She is incredibly academically talented as well. If you’ve ever been in a class with her, you know.”
As a student, Bella is as dedicated in the classroom as she is on the field, yet her competitive nature gives way to a sense of boundless curiosity and enthusiastic inclusion of her classmates. “She holds herself to really high standards, that much is clear,” says Ms. Dunbar. “But I also think she tends to pose questions or share ideas in a way that invites her classmates to respond. It’s not her own learning above others. It’s very much still a part of a community of learning.”
“She is someone who is not afraid to put herself out there,” says Ms. Dunbar. “And that shows up in class. It shows up on the athletic field, obviously. But it also just shows up in the hallways, and with her classmates.” It makes her someone that her peers look up to, and she has gained the respect of her teachers as well. “She is someone who has the talent and the personality to really stand out and be an effective leader,” says Ms. Dunbar.
When asked how Bella fits in at Pingry, Ms. Dunbar is thoughtful. “She definitely fits into the Pingry community,” she says. “But she also stands out.”
The first thing you notice about Bella Goodwin is her smile. It is infectious. It is ever present. “It’s contagious”, says her dad. Her smile seems to be everywhere (in a recent presentation on the topic of branding and marketing held in Hauser Auditorium, Bella made a humorous appearance onstage to talk about her love of the school); in the hallways, with that wide-smile; at Chipotle for lunch—only during her senior year, of course—on the field and off, hitting the half-court shot to a gymnasium erupting in cheers. She seems to be everywhere.
“You can feel her energy,” says her mom. “She is relentless.” And of course, there is that word again. “She is a force to be reckoned with. She goes into anything like she is going to win. To watch that is really inspiring.”
There are certain characteristics to iconic athletes that are seared into our minds. Mariano Rivera, asleep in the dugout, jostled awake to promptly strike out the side. John McEnroe arguing, red-faced, with the chair umpire. Michael Jordan defying gravity with a leap, taking air. One day added to that list will be Bella Goodwin’s infectious smile—and the way it disappears the second she steps out onto the lacrosse field.
According to Coach Abbott, that recognizable smile is replaced by an intimidating presence on the field. “She’s business,” she says. “The smile fades and she becomes terrifying.” And the younger players on the team take note of their fun-loving captain’s intense determination.
“From the start of warm-up to the end of a game, she does not smile,” says Coach Abbott. “Even at halftime, when there’s a seven-minute break… I might crack a joke or something. But she is so laser locked in. And as a younger kid? I would be in awe of that, and a little intimidated.”
It’s all part of what makes her The Best.
“She is a generational athlete,” says Coach Abbott.
As you can see, I was and am a very successful student, this year is starting off the same way… I talked with my parents and they said no, they don’t know I’m sending this email, I’m really hoping we can change their mind. Hoping you could get back to me in the next couple weeks or so if not I’ll be willing to reach out again or visit to talk more on this topic, thanks.
7th grade William Annin Middle School
From a young age, before she sat down to type out a secret email to the Admissions Office at Pingry, Bella had a feeling the school would be a good fit for her particular brand of relentless excellence and joie de vivre. “I wanted to be surrounded by people who were competitive and driven,” says Bella, “in the classroom and athletics as well.” It is a decision she looks back on without regret. “I don’t think I would be the same person without Pingry.”
She pauses to consider. “Definitely not.”
Mr. Goodwin recalls one of the reasons she was so determined to attend Pingry was her relentless (there’s that word again) ability to always try so hard in everything she did. “She wanted to be able to give it her all,” he says. She was occasionally teased for it, sometimes called a “try-hard” by students at her former middle school, as if trying hard was an insult to Bella Goodwin. Didn’t they know what it takes?
“What sets her apart,” marvels Coach Abbott, “is the work ethic and the hunger that she has to constantly get better.” It is that rare quality, that intangible magic, that relentlessness, that separates the very good from the few—the very few—the ones who come along once a generation, to redefine what it means to be The Best.
No doubt those seniors are sleeping in on all of their Sundays, while Bella Goodwin walks across a field, ball bag and stick in hand, getting infinitely better with each step.
Contact: Sara Courtney, Communications Writer