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Lane Errington | @lane_errington
The Keeper of Lacrosse Project was born out of a concern that the spirit of the game was in jeopardy of being lost in the name of growth. Keepers commit to preserving and promoting the culture and character of our sport. Here is what some of the more than 30,000 Keepers across the country have been up to this year.
Life is a fragile thing.
Ask Mike “Papi” Wein, whose young son, Brady, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at just 3 months old. Doctors told Mike and his wife Rachel that their infant son wouldn’t live to see his second birthday.
Mike, a boys’ club coach in Arizona, decided to use lacrosse as a vehicle to help kids take on life’s struggles together. He founded Brady’s Bunch in 2009, and soon after, fellow Boston transplant Tom DeMaio joined the cause. Their message was simple: Live every day to the fullest, because you never know when your last shift will be.
Out of tragedy came hope. Brady lived through his second birthday.
Wein and DeMaio began banding together tournament teams for the West Coast summer circuit. As the club grew, Brady continued his battle with cancer, spending as many as 60 days at a time in the hospital while undergoing two bone marrow transplants and numerous chemotherapy treatments. All the while, his message of hope spread through word of mouth from coaches and parents who came in contact with Brady’s Bunch on the sidelines.
Then Brady turned 3. And 4.
“It’s about people out there believing that Brady will be OK, believing in Brady’s Bunch,” Wein said. “That’s my therapy.”
Each week, the message remained consistent: play with emotion and energy, be good kids, be good to your parents, be good sportsmen, work hard in school and be empathetic to others.
“We enjoy winning, but Brady’s Bunch happens in the lobby of the hotel when we first meet and talk about life lessons,” DeMaio said. “That’s where these kids become part of the family.”
Brady’s struggle has remained at the, even as the family grew to incorporate players from 21 states and Canada, hailing from Arizona to Massachusetts.
“Playing with Brady’s Bunch is about more than just winning,” said Payton Fales, a rising sophomore goalie at St. Margaret’s Episcopal (Calif.). “Bunch is about playing for someone besides yourself, it’s about value, it’s about becoming a better person.”
Brady’s Bunch travels to 10-15 tournaments each year, fielding teams ranging from third grade to men’s club. Many are star players who are willing to throw roles out the window just for a chance to get the Brady’s experience.
“We understand that there’s a big focus for a lot of these kids to get recruited, and we support that, but we want them to go D-I in life,” DeMaio said.
Their namesake? After turning 5 in June, Brady continues to make periodic appearances at tournaments, often receiving rock star greetings and always cheering on the team—his team—with stick in hand.
In July, Brady’s Bunch U15 boys earned a bid to the US Lacrosse U15 National Championships, powered by Lacrosse Unlimited, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. They had a chance to see where they stacked up, but more importantly, a chance to share their message with a new audience.
Sporting camouflage uniforms with red ribbons for blood cancer awareness, Brady’s Bunch compiled a 2-4 record before falling to eventual finalist LI Express Barracudas (N.Y.) in the second round of bracket play.
After the game, DeMaio and his staff invited both teams to say a prayer for Brady and all others that had been affected by tragedy in their lives.
“That set the stage for what makes us different,” he said.
At tournament’s end, Bunch was recognized with the Keeper of Lacrosse Sportsmanship Award for exemplifying honor, integrity and respect on and off the field.
“[Winning the Keeper of Lacrosse Award] was the greatest ting to ever happen to Brady’s Bunch, because that’s what we want people to know,” Wein said. “We’re about representing someone other than yourself.”
The team has lofty goals: Return to the U15 Championships and be the first team to win the title and the Keeper of Lacrosse Award. They’ll have no shortage of inspiration.
To learn more about Brady’s Bunch, visit bradysbunchlax.com.
Twelve year-old goalie Mason had no idea the lessons he would learn while attending the final game of the grandmasters division of the 41st annual Vail Lacrosse Shootout in July. Witnessing a game between more “seasoned” players may not have taught him any new flashy moves, but the events that took place after the game left an undeniable mark on the young goalie.
Chris Harkins, a goalie for Tombstone lacrosse club, was playing in the last game of his career. Later in July, he would be making the biggest save of his life by successful donating a kidney to his sister.
As the horn sounded and both teams gathered to honor Chris—who made 15 saves in Tombstone’s 9-8 overtime loss—with the Keeper of Lacrosse Award, the boy approached him for his autograph. Humbled, Chris pulled the boy aside to give him some pointers on goalkeeping before handing over his gloves to Mason. Humbled, Chris pulled him aside to give him some pointers on goalkeeping before handing over his gloves to Mason. “I guess that’s what its all about,” Harkins said afterward.
In spring 2012, Lebanon High School lost a beloved teacher, Natalie Perriello, to domestic violence. The girls’ lacrosse team, devastated by the tragedy and searching for an outlet of hope, decided to honor the memory of “Mrs. P” through a partnership with WISE, a local domestic violence organization. The “Not in Our House” fund is aimed as providing balance to children living in homes where domestic violence exists, be it through donations ranging from a lacrosse stick to a pair of cleats or music lessons. The team hopes to continue the fund to demonstrate Perriello’s legacy of selflessness and compassion.
Motivated by a desire to help players become better citizens and pay it forward to their community, the Worthington Kilbourne coaching staff founded the Man Up Program in 2007. Kilbourne lacrosse players annually contribute over 500 community service hours, including offering free clinics and tutoring for inner city at-risk children, volunteering at the local food bank, and leading an annual school clean up day. This spring, the team collected funds for Lacrosse the Nations and donated used equipment to the Lightning Stick Society.
An edited version of this story appeared in the October 2013 edition of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. To start your subscription, become a member of US Lacrosse today.
Photo Credit: Damon Tarver
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