Shootout for Soldiers Summer ’16 Recap
Hot Temperatures, Hotter Wings and a Fiery Finish
Concord. Boston. Baltimore. Atlanta. Picayune. New Orleans. Houston. Memphis. Nashville. Columbus. Worthington. Massapequa. New York City. Indianapolis. Kansas City. Aurora. Boulder. Denver. Salina. Salt Lake City. Las Vegas. Los Angeles. San Diego. Dana Point.
A Quick Note
We live in a beautiful country – from the rolling hills of Concord to the sandy beaches of Dana Point, and over the last two months I have had the immense pleasure of traveling from coast to coast, seeing a number of these places. However, what truly makes this country so special is the people. We live in a society that is driven by those who help and support one another, who are willing to give every bit of what they can. This spirit is evident at the Shootout for Soldiers, and I’m lucky to have met many of these great people in our travels this summer.
There are some who are young, like 3rd grader Frankie Ryan who coordinated a father-son game with his friends while raising over $10,000; or the Duxbury Lacrosse Club, a team of 11-year-old boys, that organized car washes throughout the month of May to raise almost $11,000 as a team. Playing just hours before Frankie was Francis Love, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who had not picked up a stick in over a decade,but came out for the first time to play in the Veterans game. He was joined in the Veterans Game by a number of familiar faces in Boston, such as U.S. Army Spc. Calvin Todd and Spc. Matthew Raymond, who have both attended a number of SFS events across the country. Playing alongside them was our Boston Organizer, Col. Michael “Sully” Sullivan. In the day before the event, Sully had taken our team out for a tour of Concord Bridge, the historic site of the start of the Revolutionary War and welcomed us back to his home afterwards for a cookout with his family on Hanscom Air Force Base.
Sully’s hard work in New England has driven our Boston event the last two years, but it’s his optimism, humor and compassion that makes me feel grateful to have him on our team. The most incredible performance of the day belongs to Alan St. Louis, who sung the National Anthem 25 times in 24 hours – setting a new world record at the event. It truly was a treat watching Al power through the night en route to breaking the record, especially because of his immense talent despite the challenging odds. The passionate and ardently patriotic lacrosse community of New England made it the perfect starting point for our summer tour.
In its 5th year, Shootout for Soldiers Baltimore is the embodiment of selflessness and giving back. Many of the organizers, like Karen and Kristen Bolewicki, Joanne Tirabbassi, and Jay Dyer as well as the on-site volunteers such as Schazz Lee, Will Fedder, and Jill Trupia have been involved since we first began. For the fifth straight year, the referees from the Southern Lacrosse Officials Association donated their time. We also have incredible new volunteers, such as Megan McBay, who stepped up at the last second to volunteer over 18 hours as our on-site athletic trainer. What’s even more inspiring is that the engine behind the scenes, from setting up the light towers to washing the jerseys, is powered by three Juniors in high school: Ryan Trupia, Sam Weinick and Troy Stein. The trio were the first to arrive at 6 a.m. the day of the event to help set lights in place and were the last to leave after the check presentation.
It’s not just the volunteers who have fueled this event for half a decade – it’s also the players and coaches who have prioritized Shootout for Soldiers and spearheaded support each summer. The top fundraising team of the summer, Army of Darkness, is a perfect example of this dedication as it was led by longtime supporters Kevin Henry, Dan Tisinger and Kevin McDermott. There were over 50 players on the team who, as early as the beginning of spring, had blocked off the hour and committed to aggressively fundraising and rallying support. CPO Tisinger, who two years previously was sworn back into the Navy at SFS Baltimore, was also instrumental in leading the largest ever Veterans Game at the event, tripling its size from two years before. The most powerful moment of the game came when U.S. Army Cpt. Ben Harrow took the field as a goalie, playing lacrosse in his prosthetics for the first time since his injury. Cpt. Harrow’s debut in net stemmed from a commitment he made to fellow West Point teammate and Army Ranger, Erik Mineo, at Shootout for Soldiers Baltimore 2015. That game was emblematic of Cpt. Harrow’s resilience and determination, and it still gives me chills when I think back on it.
Later in the night, the Washington College Alumni played the first “Family Game,” featuring not only players from the current team and alumni from as far back as the ‘80s, but also their sons and daughters. The WAC alums have been involved since 2012 thanks to Andrew Manos, who has increasingly helped rally widespread support for the event each summer. Manos fulfilled his dream at Shootout for Soldiers by playing on the same team as his son. He even rallied others to do the same thing, such as T.D. Albright who played with his 8-year-old daughter Annie. And yes, she scored. It’s a joy seeing familiar faces each summer, and the unwavering support that a number of programs have shown for the event over the years has been a true motivator for us when things get tough. What’s so special is that these teams range from youth programs to Masters teams, and that wide range of support is what makes the event so special – it brings the entire community together. We were also fortunate to have Parkville Adaptive Lacrosse back for a third year, which has pioneered the inclusivity of the sport. This aids in achieving our primary goal: to bring the community together.
We believe that in developing a strong community, we will better be able to support and our nation’s veterans when they return home. In Baltimore, we are incredibly fortunate to have so many volunteers, coaches and players who are committed to this event. Their hard work has established the Shootout for Soldiers as an annual event in the state, a day to mark off on one’s calendar, and it’s humbling to be a part of that success. The cultivation of community is emblematic of our success in Baltimore, and that gave us fuel heading into the month of July with five events ranging all across the country.
GOING DOWN SOUTH
Choosing July as the month to bring Shootout for Soldiers down South may have been a mistake. I was frequently reminded that it was called “Hotlanta” for a reason. Fortunately we also received a warm welcome down in Kennesaw, where the Atlanta Blaze (appropriately named) hosted us for their game against the Charlotte Hounds. We kicked off SFS Atlanta the next morning, which was marked by an inspiring introduction from Lt. Keith Basnett, who stood alongside his father and grandfather, both of whom were veterans. North Gwinnett HS led the fundraising charge, followed closely behind by a half dozen teams from Laxsanity, both programs coached by organizers Jay Puckett and James Christ respectively. The duo were joined by Brett Stevens and Tim Coons, who rallied the Kennesaw Mountain community in support of the first Shootout for Soldiers down South.
On our way from Atlanta to Houston, we took a pit-stop in New Orleans for an extended weekend to celebrate the 4th of July. In between trips to Bourbon Street and kayaking on Lake Pontchartrain, Brendan and Geron took a little detour to Bayou Hot Wings to take a stab at the Bayou Hot Wings Beast Challenge – known for having the hottest wings in NOLA. It didn’t end so well. Six hours later we were in the Emergency Room. It was quite the night as we shared on our Vlog:
I always thought I had state pride, wearing the Maryland flag on shirts, shorts, hats, and even socks. Then I went to Texas. There’s simply a pride in the state that is unrivaled anywhere else in the country. There’s also a profound appreciation for our Veterans and the sacrifices they have made. Stacie McKay, our Texas Organizer, beams with state pride and patriotic fervor, and it was her hard work that drove the event in the Lone Star State. She nearly clocked in forty hours on site, but that pales into comparison to the hustle she and her committee put in throughout the year recruiting teams for the event. While players came from as far as Austin and Dallas, it was Tony’s Tavern in the heart of Houston that led the fundraising charge. However the most memorable moment of the event did not come at the check presentation, but rather the opening, where Amazing Grace was performed following a moment of silence in memory of the slain police officers in Dallas. That attack had happened the night before the event, and while we were hours away in Houston, its effects felt all too close.
For us seven on the RV, it felt like we were driving into a storm. Only two nights before that, we were in Louisiana the night that Alton Sterling was killed by police officers during a confrontation in Baton Rouge. When we got to Houston, five officers were shot by a sniper in Dallas. As tensions mounted across the country, we were making our way home from Houston to Baltimore when we stopped in Memphis. After getting dinner on Beale Street in the heart of the city, we ran right into the path of a Black Lives Matter protest that had shut down a stretch of the highway and marched for miles through the city. In the span of a week, we were seeing first hand the rising tensions across the country.
Yet just as society seemed close to reaching a boiling point, it changed course. We came together. We became more united. In Memphis, it was the new police chief who sparked the change. He was walking arm-in-arm with the Black Lives Matter protesters as they marched down Beale Street. He had his fellow officers join the march, leading to conversation instead of confrontation and unity instead of division. When we unite as a community, we are able to make a difference, and our trip down South was a powerful reminder of that lesson.
The night before our event in Ohio, we ventured out to watch the Ohio Machine square off against the Boston Cannons. As we entered the stadium, we passed by a small red car with the license plate: SFSOHIO — unsurprisingly it belonged to Michael Troper, the husband of Ohio Organizer Merry Troper.
While we may have come up with the idea of the Shootout for Soldiers, Merry is the one who boiled it down to a science and perfected it. In Worthington, we had live music throughout the day and night, a bevy of food trucks, a face painting station and much more. Merry is joined by an amazing crew in Ohio, led by Meredith Murphy, Bobbie Ritchie and Peter McKenzie, who made our second year in Worthington a resounding success as we doubled participation and trounced our fundraising goal. The event kicked off in fashion, with a proclamation from the Mayor of Worthington and a drumline from the police force. We were fortunate to make it out in time, after getting a nice flat tire in the middle of the highway on our way to the stadium. Thanks to our new friend Adam from AAA, who served in the Navy, we were able to get Ol’ Faithful back up and running in time to watch the old guys from Ball Hawgs, Columbus Old Dogs and Worthington HS suit up throughout the night. They were followed the next day by a joyful Father-Daughter game, which has come to be a staple in Ohio. Yet the best game to watch featured Team Smitty, a team of 5th & 6th grade boys who played in honor of fallen Columbus, Ohio Police SWAT Officer, Steve Smith, who was killed in the line of duty last spring. The boys honored Smith in moving fashion, created custom shirts and even led the entire event in total fundraising. To see the young players leading the charge and understanding what it’s all about makes the event a whopping success.
When I first met Harry Jacobs in 2013, he told me that the Shootout for Soldiers in Long Island was going to be bigger than Baltimore one day. At that time, we were just starting to consider a possible expansion to a new city, little did we know that in only three years his prediction would come true. Over 100 teams on three different fields played this year, raising a whopping $133,000 – making the 2016 Shootout for Soldiers Long Island the largest event ever.
There are 2 key factors that made this all possible:
Number 1: The deeply patriotic lacrosse community on Long Island that has strong personal ties to our military. This begins with the Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund, one of our national charity partners that is headquartered on the Island. The non-profit was founded in 2007 after U.S. Army Sgt. Jimmy Regan was killed in action while stationed in Iraq. Regan was a standout athlete and leader at Chaminade HS and went on to play at Duke before deciding to enlist in the Rangers. As Regan is remembered through an annual game between Chaminade and Manhasset for “Reg’s Rock,” his legacy has inspired numerous others in the area to serve their country.
Number 2: The Long Island Metro Lacrosse Foundation (LIMLF) and its dedicated board of directors. The chapter’s involvement is led by Harry Jacobs and Mike Nelson, who alongside Tommy Susko, Greg Lane, Alden Dyckman and Tom Campolettano have organized SFS Long Island for the last three years. Their ability to rally the community, gaining buy-in from local businesses and politicians, has enabled the committee to grow the event into a major affair. This year over 50 Vietnam Veterans were honored with a medal for their service by the Long Island Air Force Association alongside a slate of local civil and political leaders. This was followed by a special tribute game in memory of slain NYPD Officer Brian Moore, led by his childhood friends from nearby Plainedge. On the other side of the park, Mike Nelson helped kickoff the annual wheelchair lacrosse game on the basketball court. Nelson is also the force behind the adaptive lacrosse program in Long Island, which returned for the third straight year. Long after the sun had set, the FDNY battled the NYPD under the lights, capping off one moving day of lacrosse.
The success in Long Island is one of my proudest moments of the year. At our core, the fundamental goal of the Shootout for Soldiers is to build community and develop compassion. In the span of 24 hours, over 15,000 people came out to Field of Dreams Park. The ripple effect in our society, to instill at a young age the importance and value of service, is far greater than the number on the big check.
We left for the west coast two days later, stopping in Indianapolis and Kansas City along the way before arriving in Colorado. We spent nearly a week around town: hiking in Boulder, exploring downtown Denver and even catching a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
I have personally wanted to host an event in Colorado since I was in town for the 2014 World Championships, and after meeting Misty Huss, I knew we had the perfect person to run point. Misty is a steamroller. Her energy, focus and months of preparation is what set Shootout for Soldiers Colorado up for success. When we faced a tricky situation with only one girls team registered for the event, Misty orchestrated a “stick-swap” game, where a boys team of the same age played with the girls sticks while the girls used the guys sticks. BINGO! It was an overwhelming success, and while the girls dominated, this led to many of the boys eagerly suggesting a rematch in 2017.
However this wasn’t the only “first” at SFS Colorado. It was also the first time we had a professional drummer on the sidelines, as JoJo WarDrummer drummed throughout the day and night in addition to playing and refereeing a number of games. I was fortunate to play alongside JoJo and organizer Michael Lensing, since we had an army of volunteers led by Bonnie Clinton and veggie-burger master Michael Huss on the grill. However I wasn’t the only player from out of town on the field, as Cameron Kewely and Nick Alessi flew out from Massachusetts to play since they couldn’t make the event in Boston this year. The 14-year old duo had played in SFS Boston last year and was committed to playing in the event again, even if it meant traveling 2,000 miles. Cam and Nick made a great decision to fly out, as Shootout for Soldiers Colorado was a resounding success in just its first year.
As we made our way from Colorado to California, we had the GoPro pointed at the odometer, hoping to catch the moment the odometer registered 100,000 miles. We were at 99,985 when in the midst of the mountains of Utah, we started to smell gas and pulled over to inspect the RV. Upon getting out we noticed a small fire near the front, which quickly began to engulf the vehicle. We took cover down the road as the fire continued to grow larger, billowing black smoke high into the sky. In less than one minute, the whole the RV burned down. From our clothes and laptops to the deck of cards we used to play pitch at night, everything was reduced to ashes. I’m still unsure what caused the fire looking back now and we’ll probably never know. The simple fact is that we were fortunate to get out when we did.
I’ll be honest, I had to choke back tears at one point. It wasn’t while standing on the side of the road watching the RV burn, but rather the following morning while in Salt Lake City. I had got up early and launched a fundraising page detailing our story, explaining how we needed some help getting to California and then back home. I set the goal at $5,000: which was the cost of a rental car, uHaul, and flights home. I launched the page at 9:45am, posted it on our social media channels, and went back to eating the buffet breakfast at the Marriott. By 10am, we had raised over $2,500 and the post had begun to go viral on Facebook.
This is when I had to choke back tears. After 5 years of hard work, it became clear as to what we’ve built: Community.
Support rushed in from all across the country. In 24 hours, we had raised over $40,000 thanks that came from nearly 500 donors in 30+ states. Our story had reached over 100,000 people on Facebook, and countless more across the web. I received nearly a hundred emails from folks in the insurance industry who were willing to provide guidance and assistance in the process. Dozens of folks offered us a place to stay in California, and we were even suited up with a whole new wardrobe by Under Armour. That level of support was truly humbling, and I can’t thank everyone who helped us enough for your generosity and selflessness.
We hit the road the next day with a rental from Enterprise and finally made it down to Dana Point for the final event of the summer. The event in California is unique in that it draws teams from such distant regions in the state, ranging from south of San Diego to northern LA. However over a fourth of the teams this summer came from Temecula, thanks to the relentless efforts of Will Patton. The event doubled in participation from the previous year, and even added a Wheelchair Lacrosse game thanks to Kyle Lamb and Ryan Baker.
On the ground, Chris Iltis, Linda Kim and Phil Lowance were once again the engines behind the event at Dana Hills HS, a beautiful stadium that overlooks the ocean. While we lost our gear on the RV, we were fortunate to have support from Adrenaline Lacrosse who not only donated clothes but provided all of the event equipment free of charge. The communal nature of California, and the beautiful seaside sunsets over the stadium made it the perfect location to end our thrilling summer tour.
Since we first founded the Shootout for Soldiers, I have been fortunate to work with two of my best friends in the world – Brendan Owens and Geron Brooks. When we launched the event as high school seniors, Brendan and I organized registration by writing out notecards for over a thousand players and organizing them by age and position on my dining room table. He and I even made up fake confirmation codes that first year with a formula we constructed using characters from Friday Night Lights. He’s the co-pilot on the RV, willing to get up early when we need to hit the road or handle directions as we navigate a new city each day on the road. In five years of running this event, nobody has put in more selfless hours during the winter and spring than him. We never would have been able to pull the event off the first year without Brendan, and we could have never expanded so fast without his diligence and hard work. I can’t thank Brendan enough for his hard work, grit and dedication to the event over the years and he’ll be sorely missed next summer.
Geron has played an entirely different role. Handling everything from set-up to RV maintenance to assisting an injured player to the hospital, Geron has served as a safety net for the event since it started. He’s a true jack of all trades, even getting trained in how to operate a boom so we could raise the American flag above the scoreboard. Often times it was tiresome, thankless work, like unpackaging thousands of shirts for print or inventorying apparel until late into the night. It’s no question that he’s the far better RV driver, having gotten us out of numerous unfortunate circumstances. Beyond all that work, G has always been the lifeblood and energy of our team, whether it be one-bite food reviews or picking up the tempo late at night. Geron and Brendan have worked tirelessly, often behind the scenes, since we founded the event and we would not have been able to grow so fast without them.
ONE FINAL NOTE
Living with people, traveling with them and working together are three of the most challenging scenarios of any relationship. In the RV, we do all 3 of them at once. At times it can make things incredibly stressful, and the close living quarters only exacerbates these challegnes. Yet overall, the last two years have been an incredible experience as we have had the opportunity to travel the country and see some amazing places. I’m fortunate to have RJ Kaminski and Brett Roberts on our team, who are both incredibly hard-working and brilliant media minds. Brett Roberts shoots, edits and produces all of our videos, and often has four cameras going at once during an event. But what’s most impressive is not just his ability to get the perfect shot, but his detailed process in annotating and editing the clips. In front of the of the camera, RJ has quickly become the personality of the Shootout for Soldiers, bringing a friendly and energetic voice to our conte. Yet he works far harder behind the scenes, developing our media strategy, producing content and growing our social channels. RJ works tirelessly with Hooper Neale and Gabby Steinhardt (the better looking sibling) and these four have built our incredible media profile. Gabby and Hooper have also been the force behind our apparel, tripling our revenue in the past year. This year we also welcomed our newest team member Rachael Rennie, who in addition to helping organize the Boston event has become our Team Liaison after traveling the country for five events this summer. Without this crew, nothing would be possible and I can’t thank them enough for their work ethic, optimism
and relentless jokes about my aging appearance. The key to success is simple: work with great people. Thankfully we’ve managed to do just that in eight cities across the country and our team here at home. Now we just need to get a new RV that won’t catch fire.
Cheers to an amazing summer and thank you so much to everyone who made it possible!