Greyhounds at Their Best

In wake of shooting, men’s lacrosse players bring talents, compassion, and fun to Newtown children

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Steve Layne, Larry French, Loyola Athletics

As Jason Crane, ’16, watched the news unfold surrounding the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., he—like so many others—wondered how he could help. But how could he possibly make a difference?

“The only way I knew how to help was with lacrosse,” said the Pasadena, Md., resident, who is a member of Loyola’s men’s lacrosse team.

But how?

Crane searched online, found the name of a contact for the Newtown Lacrosse Association, and sent an email offering his and his teammates’ assistance.

He received an enthusiastic yes. Then Crane reached out to his teammates, who were all on Christmas break. “They are the 45 best guys I know,” said Crane. The yeses started coming back right away.

Just days later, on Jan. 3, Crane and 13 of his Loyola Greyhounds teammates traveled to Newtown to run a clinic for young lacrosse players there—some of whom were students in the school where 26 students, teachers, and administrators had lost their lives just weeks earlier.

“Who Are These Guys?”

Even though the Loyola players knew why they were making the trip to Newtown, the gravity of what the community had experienced didn’t start to sink in until they arrived in town.

“It didn’t really hit us until we stopped at a diner right as we got in the Newtown limit. You could buy a wristband. There were cards and posters,” said Brian Schultz, ’14. “Everyone’s wheels started turning thinking about what it was going to be like when we got there.”

Loyola parent Steve Layne had given a group of Loyola players a ride in his RV from his home in Downingtown, Pa. As they entered the diner, Layne noticed how the people there reacted.

“They had been invaded by the media. You could see these people looking at us feeling like ‘Who are these guys?’” said Layne, whose son, Chris, ’13, is on the team and whose son, Steve, ’10, serves as director of men’s lacrosse operations. “You got this vibe that something unthinkable had just happened here. And that day was actually the first day that the kids were returning to school.”

When the Greyhounds players arrived at the community activity center where the lacrosse clinic was being held, Jim Wallace, coach training coordinator for the Newtown Lacrosse Association, came out to greet them. He wanted to help them consider what the children they would meet that day were experiencing.

“They really wanted to do the right thing for the kids, and try to provide a great experience for them. They were really mature about it. They wanted to know what was happening and how the town was,” Wallace said.

Courage in Action

Wallace watched the men’s lacrosse players climb off the RV, head into the building, and confidently take over the clinic. And he was struck by how they handled themselves as individuals and engaged with the children.

“They handled it better than I ever could have. They were so sensitive to the kids—and they completely took over. They ran all the clinics. They were unbelievable,” Wallace said. “It was still really raw. And it took a lot of courage for those players to drive up to our town and want to spend time with the kids. This was still at a time where it was hard to make it through a day without crying.”

The Greyhounds players got to work, running the program themselves, while parents of the children participating watched from the sidelines.

“They were so impressed by these men,” Wallace said. “It was amazing how they were really focused on the kids. They didn’t have their cell phones out. They weren’t standing in a cluster talking. They were really mixing it up with the kids. (Senior) Davis Butts got in the goal with no equipment on, and there must have been 20 kids shooting on him.”

The children smiled and laughed and hammed it up for a video camera. They were in awe of the National Champion Greyhounds. And the Loyola student-athletes watched the children participating in the clinic get caught up in the excitement of lacrosse.

“The kids were a lot of fun. We had a bunch of really young kids that were fun to play with. The stick is bigger than they are at that age,” said Schultz, a communication major from Walkersville, Md. “That’s really what the kids needed, just a change, instead of hearing about all the bad stuff. We really just focused on lacrosse, just goofing around, anything to lift their spirits.”

And, although the focus that day was on lacrosse, the horrific event that brought the Greyhounds players to town was close to their minds.

“A few of the kids had not even left their houses since the shooting, and they came out for the clinic,” Crane said. “I talked to one kid who was a second grader. I was just talking to him, getting to know him, and he said he was in the building at the time.”

Moving Forward

Watching from the sidelines with parents of the children who were participating, Layne felt proud of his son, Chris, and his teammates.

“It was really phenomenal to see them step up and serve the way they did,” he said. “People were just in this state of shock. How can you describe having gone through a trauma like that? And while no one that I met lost a child, they all knew everyone.”

One of the Newtown mothers Layne spoke with talked about how she was determined that the tragedy was not going to change her family, but that the positive experiences—such as the clinics that day led by the Loyola Greyhounds—were going to serve as a lesson and guiding principle for her family going forward.

“They were so thankful,” Layne said.

He was also struck by the fact that the people there were impressed by the team’s 2012 NCAA National Men’s Lacrosse Championship.

“You just kind of realize the magnitude and the responsibility that these boys have. They are champions,” Layne said. “Somehow God was watching over all of this. They just made it happen.”

Wallace was amazed by how the Greyhounds players interacted with the children participating in the clinic.

“These kids are still hurting. They can’t sleep in their beds. They have to sleep with their parents,” he said. “It really was one of those things that help kids heal, just to be able to run around and play with your friends and have something to feel special about. Everybody walked out of there smiling.”

Lasting Friendship

When the day ended, Wallace wanted to treat the Greyhounds players to pizza, and they politely declined. “These kids did something really, really wonderful for a town that was in a lot of pain, and their intentions were great,” he said. “And they wouldn’t take a thing from us.”

To thank them, Wallace gave the players a No. 26 jersey—in honor of the 26 lives lost during the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As the men’s lacrosse team heads out onto the field at the Ridley Athletic Complex, the players now run past that jersey, which is hanging in the team locker room.

And that connection that Crane first made with an email in December has grown into a relationship that brought several Newtown families down to a Loyola vs. University of Denver game April 13. They came to cheer on the Greyhounds and to thank them. Crane’s family and Wallace’s have formed a friendship. And the two are already talking about when the Greyhounds might be able to come for another clinic.

“We’re proud to know them,” said Wallace, himself a father of three boys. “We just love those guys. They are welcome anytime.”

Bookmark and Share

No Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment