Top row, left to right: Kyle Gangemi, Chris Layne, Pat McEnerny, Phil Dobson, Jason Crane, Davis Butts, Brendan Donovan, Jeff Chase, Jimmy Joe Granito, TJ Harris. Bottom row, left to right: Jack Runkel, Josh Hawkins, Tyler Foley, Brian Schultz.
Last week several members of the NCAA Champion Loyola Men’s Lacrosse Team put on clinics for the children of Newtown, Conn. T.J. Harris is a Senior Defenseman at Loyola (and also a member of Lacrosse Playground’s summer ball team). He recounted the experience and the memorable impact it had on him.
Written by T.J. Harris
A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from my teammate Jason Crane. Jason is a freshman on our team from Anne Arundel County, Md., the same place I’m from. The email described how Jason contacted a man named Jim Wallace, the director of youth lacrosse in Newtown, Conn. Jason was looking for a way to help, and Mr. Wallace suggested that we put on a clinic. This was an opportunity that we couldn’t turn down. Mr. Wallace mentioned how the last month has seen Newtown transform from a happy town into a very quiet, joyless community, noting that many kids weren’t even excited about Christmas and hardly celebrated it. The hope was that we, the Loyola lacrosse team, could bring a little joy to the kids of Newtown.
I met a few of my teammates at our Ridley Athletic Complex on Thursday, January 3 at 6:30 a.m. and we rode up to Downingtown, Pa. with Jason Crane, Brian “Reginald” Schultz, and Brendan “The Dononator” Donovan. Downingtown is the home of teammate Chris Layne, and former teammate and current coach Steve Layne. Their father, Steve Layne Sr., offered to drive us the rest of the way to Newtown in their RV that they use for tailgating. We stopped for lunch near Newtown and after a solid lunch, it was time to head to the indoor facility in Newtown and kick off the clinics.
We met a few more teammates at the indoor facility, including guys local to Connecticut and a couple teammates from Massachusetts that made the trip. The first clinic was at 3 p.m. for the 8th graders, followed by a 4:15 clinic with 6th and 7th graders. We introduced ourselves, did a little partner passing and then split them up into three groups and did stations with them. After the stations we put all of their sticks into a pile, drew a few out, and those were the kids that received some of the gifts we brought. Our gifts included Bayhawks gear, some lacrosse gear from Brine and some of our own Loyola gear. We were fortunate enough to have the gear to distribute, and we thank the Bayhawks and Brine for that.
At 5:30 we started a clinic with 2nd and 3rd graders. This group included kids that attended Sandy Hook Elementary, the school where the shootings took place. It was a bit different than the earlier clinics, as we spent most of our time playing sharks and minnows, musical ground balls and a number of other games. We concluded it by having all the kids run down the field and take a shot at teammate Davis Butts, which turned into them all chasing Davis around the field until they finally tackled him. This clinic had the biggest impact on me personally. I have twin brothers that are in 5th grade, and I couldn’t imagine talking to them about an experience like the kids in Newtown went through. Hearing a 2nd grader describe the tragic events of that day is something I’ll never forget. The parents were so grateful for us coming, and didn’t hesitate to let us know. The most rewarding part of the whole trip was seeing the smiles on those little guys, and the smiles on the parents that accompanied them to the clinic.
The final clinic started at 6:45 with the 4th and 5th graders. We finished around 8:00 and stayed until around 8:45 talking to the kids, signing autographs and taking pictures with them. I signed a number of helmets, gloves and sticks. But I also got a few signatures from former Sandy Hook students on my stick. I plan to keep these on my stick throughout this season for when I’m struggling and need a little inspiration. These kids are strong individuals, something I think myself and all my teammates learned that day.
The night concluded with a trip to our teammate’s house, Jimmy Joe Granito. He and his family opened their doors to me and my teammates. They gave us a place to stay, and his mom was kind enough to cook us dinner, which was fantastic. We woke up the following morning around 10, packed the RV, and headed back to Maryland.
The trip is one that I’ll never forget. I’m incredibly grateful to Jason for coming up with the idea and following through with it, Mr. Layne for driving us up there, as well as Jim Wallace for helping to organize the clinics and getting the kids to come out. Mr. Wallace talked to all of us at the end of the clinic and gave us a Newtown jersey, number 26. This number is being retired in the Newtown lacrosse program, and it represents the number of people that lost their lives the day of the shooting. This is an incredibly meaningful gift to our program, and we plan to frame the jersey and hang it up in our locker room. Seeing this jersey on the way out to practice or on the way out to a game is something that’ll remind us of the strength the kids of Newtown have. We can only hope to be as strong as them in our everyday journeys.