The Examiner

Byram Hills Lax Classic Sparks Big Turnout for Wounded Warrior

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Adam Silva, right, chief development officer for the Wounded Warrior Project, with event organizers Beth and Tom Grotta.
Adam Silva, right, chief development officer for the Wounded Warrior Project, with event organizers Beth and Tom Grotta.

Usually when lacrosse teams face each other at any one of the area high schools, there is pressure to come out on top.

Everyone who played on Sunday at Byram Hills High School in Armonk was on the same side.

The school hosted its inaugural No Man Down Fall Lax Classic, an event that attracted 55 varsity, junior varsity and seventh- and eighth-grade squads and club teams from the lower Hudson Valley, Fairfield County, Conn. and Long Island. Proceeds from the event, totaling more than $50,000, were donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that assists wounded members of the nation’s armed services with services and support when they return home.

Coordinating Sunday’s event was no minor undertaking, and took contributions from a large portion of the Byram Hills lacrosse community, said Tom Grotta, one of the organizers of the No Man Down Classic.

Grotta said that a group of about 15 Byram Hills parents and staff members came up with the idea after the school participated in another event in Connecticut last year on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project. It received the support of Michael Gulino, director of athletics, physical education and health education at the high school.

“Everyone took on a responsibility and it ended up not falling on any one person’s shoulder,” said Grotta, who hopes No Man Down can be repeated annually. “It was great. It worked out great. It was hard but well done from all sides.”

Each team paid $500 to participate to go toward the charity, with many others raising additional funds on the side, he said. and a variety of local businesses also were sponsors.

The day had special meaning for Gulino, whose 25-year-old son, Kevin, is a West Point graduate and has been serving in Iraq since June.

“Some of his classmates at West Point are benefitting from the work that Wounded Warriors does,” he said. “So I have a personal attachment to it.”

For about seven hours, there was a schedule of games featuring 7-on-7 competition for the boys and 8-on-8 for girls’ teams on a dozen different smaller-sized fields that had been set up. Organizers had to reach out to neighboring schools to borrow lacrosse nets and game officials donated their time to the cause, Gulino said.

Shortly after noon, Adam Silva, chief development officer for the Wounded Warrior Project, addressed the more than 500 youngsters who comprised the teams and their parents and coaches.

Silva, a 1993 West Point grad and a former lacrosse player, told the story of two servicemen, John Fernandez and Ben Harrow, who were  wounded serving overseas in 2003 and 2012, respectively.

Through the help of Wounded Warrior and their own perseverance, Fernandez and Harrow, both former competitive lacrosse players, are living productive lives and making important contributions. Harrow, a double amputee, is currently undergoing painful bone lengthening procedures so he can be fit with prosthetic legs.

Silva said the goal of the organization is to help 100,000 wounded veterans by 2017; today that number stands at 60,000.

“We don’t get there unless you come here,” Silva said. “What you do for us today enables us to fuel life-saving programs and services that simply save and change lives.”

Joe Barbagallo, coach of the Mahopac Middle School’s seventh- and eighth-grade girls team, which participated on Sunday, said when Byram Hills reached out there was no hesitation to be represented.

“The cause is second to none,” Barbagallo said. “What a great day we’re having and to have all these kids coming here and playing for a cause like No Man Down, is just great.”

Silva said the Wounded Warrior Project has been “blessed” by the public’s support of the organization through sporting events, walkathons, runs and bake sales. In 2014, there have  been about 7,000 events nationwide to raise money, and lacrosse supporters are a big part of that.

“We’re constantly amazed at the generosity of the American people,” Silva said, “but there’s something about the lacrosse community. There’s a deep connection all over the country.”

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