LEBANON, Ohio — Kevin and Bonnie Carroll wanted a way to connect with an ailing niece in Long Island. Area families wanted Kevin to coach their girls on a summer lacrosse travel team.

Their needs intersected along this rural stretch of Interstate 71 between Cincinnati and Columbus, as Lacrosse for Wishes SO (Ohio) made its debut in the U14 division of the US Lacrosse Midwest Summer Splash here Saturday. Lacrosse for Wishes SO battled teams from Illinois and Minnesota, perhaps with more motivation than most club programs.

Lacrosse for Wishes took the field at Lebanon Sports Complex having already raised $12,500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in honor of the Carrolls’ niece, Grace, who’s regularly hospital bound due to her battle with epilepsy. She’s 5 years old. Make-A-Wish grants wishes, often special trips, to kids diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses or conditions. Grace got to experience a wish – a cruise, complete with a medical team alongside – in May 2015.

“We couldn’t really participate [in Grace’s wish],” Kevin, the goalie coach for the Mason (Ohio) varsity and JV girls’ teams and a youth coach in the area, said.

Searching for a way to give back in honor of those who’d treated Grace so well, Kevin recalled meeting Bill Guigno of Lacrosse Unlimited at a US Lacrosse Convention a few years ago. Guigno had founded Lacrosse for Wishes in Connecticut to help do something special for his son, according to Kevin Carroll. It began with one team and expanded to 10 teams raising $100,000 for Make-A-Wish in 2015.

Kevin reached out to Juno via LinkedIn to learn some of the ins and outs about running a team with such a fundraising endeavor as a major component.

“A lot of families wanted to do a summer travel team but wanted me to coach. We saw the opportunity for a connection [with Make-A-Wish] and thought, ‘Let’s see what we can do,’” Kevin Carroll said.

Carroll emailed members of the local lacrosse community about the idea. The response?

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Sara Grove, a goalie on Lacrosse for Wishes. “I love lacrosse, but to play for a cause feels so much better. It’s heartwarming to be able to help someone.”

Grove has played lacrosse for seven years in nearby Mason, all under Carroll’s tutelage. Since a September tryout, 20 girls have been raising funds for Make-A-Wish by means small and large, such as selling lemonade to soliciting friends and business associates of their parents. Grove participated in fundraisers at the Mason community center, a pizza store, and a tag-and-bake sale.

We were thrilled about it,” Chris Proto, mother of team member Anna. “It builds character and teaches them to give back. It’s another dimension besides just throwing and catching.”

The community has gotten involved. The Southern Ohio Chapter of US Lacrosse donated money, STX donated gear, and Lax Wear donated shirts for coaches. According to Bonnie Carroll, Make-A-Wish tabs the cost of a wish at $8,000-$10,000, and Lacrosse for Wishes SO has already exceeded that.

“All of the families got excited about making a difference off the field,” Bonnie Carroll said. “We started this because of our niece. It’s important to us, but it’s become important to our families. Six communities are represented on our team. They’ve come together. They didn’t know each other beforehand.”

That much was evident during their first game together, a 10-5 loss to Lakeshore 2021 (Ill.). Errant passes, dropped balls, and problems communicating doomed Lacrosse for Wishes SO to a 7-2 deficit at the break.

“Girls, we’ve got the yips. We just need to settle down and play our game,” Kevin Carroll told his team at halftime, before an assistant coach pointed out that four Lakeshore goals came on fast breaks after dropped passes.

Lacrosse for Wishes settled in the second half and outscored Lakeshore 3-2 during that stanza.

“Since September we’ve been bonding and raising money. I think we were just extremely excited to get on the field together. We’re learning to play together, and that was a good team,” Carroll said. “But I was excited to see that we battled.”

Battle they did, scoring a 13-3 victory of Lakeshore 2021/2022 (Ill.) and challenging Lacrosse Monkey (Minn.) in an 8-5 defeat. Lacrosse for Wishes SO will have another shot a Lacrosse Monkey when they meet in a semifinal Sunday.

Back under the shade of Make-A-Wish-adorned tents between games, players acted like they’d known each other for years, bouncing candy off a ball-return net and evaluating each other’s suntans. The gravity of the medical conditions of the Make-A-Wish kids has fueled a zest in their lacrosse benefactors.

“They’re so excited to find out who their Wish kid is,” Proto said.

It’s unknown that will happen, though Bonnie Carroll hinted at a surprise this week. Later this summer, the team will play in a tournament in Pennsylvania, where the possibility of meeting Grace exists.

“Grace is always being tested to make sure her medications are in balance. Sometimes she’s attached to a machine and can’t move for a week,” Bonnie Carroll said. “Make-A-Wish gives people something to look forward to, to make them feel normal.”

“We wanted the kids to get a bigger experience out of a summer program than just paying and traveling,” Kevin, who played at Albany and later for the Irish national team, said. “To have the kids learn there’s more to life than lacrosse, but that lacrosse is giving them an opportunity to make a difference in their community – we’re excited and the whole team is very excited.”

Regardless of how Lacrosse for Wishes SO finishes in tomorrow’s finale of the Summer Splash, the team already has scored a much bigger victory in life.