Loyola players, including defenseman Jason Crane, stand behind… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
In a community ravaged by indescribable tragedy, every individual act of kindness, every unexpected moment of joy takes on a special significance that only those who are living with it can truly understand.
So, when Loyola freshman Jason Crane organized a group of 14 players from the Greyhounds' defending NCAA champion men's lacrosse team to put on a youth clinic in Newtown, Conn., just three weeks after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it may have seemed like a small gesture that would soon be lost among the big headlines and and even bigger political repercussions generated by such a horrific incident.
Try telling that to the 101 kids and parents from Newtown Youth Lacrosse who lined up alongside the Greyhounds for pregame introductions on Senior Day on Saturday at Loyola's Ridley Athletic Complex.
The Greyhounds hosted the players and their families, who represented Sandy Hook and five other elementary and middle schools, for their final home game of the regular season.
Loyola suffered a dramatic 13-12 loss to No. 1 Denver in overtime, but there have been very few days when the Greyhounds better represented their university and the city of Baltimore.
"These Loyola kids have been unbelievable role models,'' said Jim Wallace, the vice president of development for Newtown Youth Lacrosse, "for the kids to see what you should be doing as a young man. It's not sitting at Xbox."
In this case, it started with a freshman defenseman from Chesapeake High in Pasadena sitting at his computer and emailing Wallace because he wanted to do something to help. That simple act brought a big chunk of the Loyola team together with more than 100 kids who had been affected either directly or indirectly by the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Then came a concerted effort by the team, the Marriott Waterfront Hotel, Under Armour, the Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Visit Baltimore to bring as many of those kids as possible here this weekend.
The only ones who didn't cooperate were the Pioneers of Denver, who staved off a big Loyola comeback and scored 16 seconds into overtime to send the Greyhounds (9-3) to their first Eastern College Athletic Conference defeat. The loss stung, but Crane said that the sight of all those happy kids was a big inspiration.
"It was really special,'' Crane said, "even throughout the game. Just the kids cheering. They were getting the crowd fired up. Great people. It was just really good to see them out there, to see them away from everything that happened."
The Loyola University Maryland motto greets you when you walk through the glass doors to the office level at the Ridley Athletic Complex.
"Strong Truths Well Lived."
Crane probably wasn't thinking about those words when he sent that email to Wallace offering to come to Newtown with some teammates on the final weekend of winter break for a day of drills, instruction and fun.
The other players probably didn't give that motto a second thought when eight or nine of them piled into an RV and headed north, and several more who lived in the Northeast met them in Newtown on Jan. 3.
They just brought it to life.
"It was more than ever could be expected,'' Crane said. "It was such a special experience. They keep saying how much they took away from everything that happened, but I know that the 14 people who were there, we took away a lot more than they did. It was a really special day."
The parents who run the Newtown lacrosse organization didn't know what to expect. The community was still in shock. Many of the kids had not seen each other since the tragedy. Some had stayed inside through the holidays and seemed to have lost interest in their favorite activities.
"It was probably the first time they were seeing all of their friends,'' said Jeff Tousignant, the president of the Newtown lacrosse organization. "School was out. We were in winter break. It was the first time some of them caught up to each other. You never know. There is no playbook for it, so you don't know how to chart through that course, but these [Loyola] boys were waiting with smiles and energy and excitement to share their passion for the game with the players."
The clinic didn't get any national publicity, which is why Wallace and Tousignant kept insisting that the conversation return to how impressed they were with the character of the Loyola players. Like a lot of lacrosse fans and parents, they're tired of only seeing the sport get national attention when there is some kind of scandal.