By: RJ Kaminski
Mike Nelson is an executive board member of the Nassau County Police Activity League (PAL) who takes being involved in the community to a new level.
“We run the youth lacrosse league for Long Island,” Nelson said. “We have over 500 teams, 11,000 kids, 52 towns, 1,9000 coaches. Our PAL youth league is the second biggest in the country.”
Nelson has always had motivation to do a little bit more for the kids in his county, so he took his involvement a step further.
“My experiences at his school and my experience with lacrosse led me to try to think, ‘How could I get involved in lacrosse with special education kids?’” he said. “So I started a special education program here in Nassau County for lacrosse. We started with a couple kids and now we have 16 or 17 kids.”
After connecting with Harry Jacobs, the head organizer for Shootout for Soldiers Long Island, he had no doubt that his team, the Nassau County PAL Knights, was going to be playing in a game that year.
Nelson had prepared to have his Knights team square off against another local special education team, the Garden City Challengers. All did not go as planned, however, because members of each team attend school during the summer due to their individual disabilities. “We were missing a few kids last year so we didn’t quite have enough to play a full game even with our two groups combined,” Nelson said. Not knowing exactly what to do, Nelson looked out into the parking lot.
“Something clicked in my head,” Nelson said. “The veteran game was right before ours…they had just finished shaking hands.”
Nelson gathered the two veteran teams together alongside the field and pitched an idea to them that would make it possible for both special needs teams to play in the event.
“Guys, that was a great game,” Nelson told them. “I have one question to ask. I’m the chairman of the special needs program. Is there a couple of you that would like to stick around and play an extra game with these special needs kids?”
Nelson, overwhelmed by their collective response, described their reaction. “I tell you, every single one of them raised their hands,” Nelson said. The Nassau County PAL Knights combined with the Garden City Challengers to face dozens of young veterans.
“There wasn’t a dry eye around the field,” Nelson said. “When I was talking to the group I had trouble getting my voice out. The feeling was grassroots, old lacrosse. It was lacrosse in its purest sense.”
Nelson reminisced about the excitement expressed by his group as well as the veterans before the first face-off. The pace of the game flowed, each side putting up points for their respective team. The veterans gave each player the space they needed and made sure the game remained close and competitive. “They were trash talking to each other,” Nelson recounted. “They were high-fiving each other. It was one of the greatest lacrosse experiences that I’ve ever been involved in.”
One of the Knights players even approached Nelson since that game and asked if his team could play the veterans again.
“They want a rematch,” Nelson chuckled.