Healing Power: US Lacrosse, Loyola Welcome Newtown (Conn.) Youth Lacrosse Association
I've worked at US Lacrosse for more than 11 years and seen the sport's national governing body take a leadership role in the positive development of lacrosse. But I may never have been as humbled and as proud during that time than Saturday, when US Lacrosse joined several other businesses and organizations to welcome about 100 players, family members and coaches from the Newtown (Conn.) Youth Lacrosse Association to Baltimore for the weekend.
Most of the nation is aware of the Dec. 14, 2012, tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 26 students and teachers were murdered by a criminal who earlier took the life of his mother and later took his own life.
Most of the nation should be aware of how an act of kindness by one member of the lacrosse community led to others, resulting in what seemed like an unending parade of smiles on the faces of kids and parents at the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame and at the Loyola-Denver men's game, among other stops on the Newtown group's visit.
Two days after the tragedy, Loyola freshman Jason Crane emailed Jim Wallace, the NYLA's vice president for youth development.
"He was really sensitive, and pretty amazing for an 18-year-old kid," Wallace said. "I thanked him. He emailed me back a couple days later saying he really wanted to do something."
Wallace and Jeff Tousignant, the third-year president of the NYLA, agreed to let Crane, a native of Pasadena, Md., come up and help run the first NYLA winter youth clinic, scheduled for Jan. 3. Crane quickly found 13 willing teammates to travel to Newtown Youth Academy, where they conducted the instructional clinic for about 100 youth players.
"[The Loyola players] left such an impression at that point, we thought we should try to find a way to go down there and see them," Tousignant said.
What began as casual conversation among NYLA leadership to go see a Greyhounds game quickly evolved into a traveling party of 100. Wallace touched base with US Lacrosse CEO Steve Stenersen to see if his group could tour the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame on the US Lacrosse campus while in town.
Since the early days of the sport on North America, lacrosse has had an element of healing. Understanding that the trip to Baltimore would be the first out-of-town venture since the tragedy for many residents of Newtown — some of which, young and old, still experience trouble stepping foot outside and navigating law enforcement and media entrenched on neighborhood streets — US Lacrosse, Marriott, Under Armour and Visit Baltimore worked selflessly to provide a memorable, fun weekend of activities and events.
US Lacrosse archivist extraordinaire Joe Finn helped young Quinn Helmig track down a photo of his great-grandfather, Alfred Quinn, who played at Syracuse in the 1930s. U.S. men's national team players Stephen Berger, Kyle Dixon, Michael Evans and Nicky Polanco spent time with the kids and signed autographs, after they put them through the paces with a few drills at adjacent Homewood Field. US Lacrosse worked with Nike and Warrior/Brine to secure some nice gear to give away to the kids, and Stenersen presented Tousignant with a stick from the world champion 2012 U.S. men's under-19 team.
"After that day in December, we had a long and beautiful outpouring of support from throughout the lacrosse community," Tousignant said. "The entire lacrosse community wanted to bring their healing, to bring something to help us heal and find a smile. This trip is part of that. There's a lot to be said for the lacrosse community and the way it shows its support for everybody."
The Newtown group enjoyed staying at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, where the Greyhounds met them for brunch Sunday morning. Some families went to the National Aquarium. Some toured Under Armour's headquarters. All this was after pre and postgame time with the players at Loyola's Ridley Athletic Complex, despite the Greyhounds' 13-12 overtime loss to the Pioneers.
"Unbelievable thoughtfulness and caring," Wallace said.
As the Newtown group was preparing to head to Ridley Saturday morning, Tousignant and Wallace returned the favor to Stenersen. To honor the memory of the 26 students and teachers who died at Sandy Hook, the NYLA has retired the jersey number 26. As a thank-you to US Lacrosse, they presented Stenersen with a Newtown 26 jersey, which will be framed and displayed in the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame.
In a shrine rich with the sport's history, there may not be a single better display that represents what the lacrosse community is all about.