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North Castle Daily News

Hudson Valley Hurricanes
Byram Hills High School LAX Tournament Benefits Wounded Warriors

November 16, 2015
The Hudson Valley Hurricanes arrived from Suffern High School along with 56 other teams to have fun while playing lacrosse and improving their game at the “No Man Down, Fall LAX Classic” at Byram Hills High School on Sunday November 15.

The players arrived to play lacrosse but they did much more than that.

This tournament is many things, but competitive is not one of them. As the Hurricanes waited for the air horn to start the second round of four abbreviated games, Tommy Schember, the senior team captain said, “We are motivated to play hard today by the talk of the ‘Wounded Warrior.’ He told us that he took lessons learned from the military to persevere in life and to overcome his adversities.”

Deven Schei thanked the kids for stepping up and doing this. As a three-year spokesman of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a national veterans’ charity, Schei said, “We raise awareness, but we don’t ask for money. Rather, we share our stories and thank people for supporting our project. Today’s lacrosse players are the generation that will take care of us when we are older and can’t do that for ourselves any more. They are taking the initiatives to learn about WWP, our veterans and what’s going on in the world.”

Tappan Zee Lacrosse Coach Marc Eckert said he always tries to involve the team, the TZ Dutchman, to help any kind of community cause. “It’s just as much a part of our program as lacrosse is. We try to give back any way we can. Service and leadership are things we talk about and this resonates with the message we try to send the team.”

Last year, the Byram Hills Fall LAX Classic raised $60,000. That’s a big deal for WWP, said Schei. “These kids are stepping up and there are men and women out there who rely on them. They make a difference and we ask them to continue what they are doing.”

Schei said it is worth retelling his story to get out the message for all the wounded warriors. He talked about his family’s service in the United States Army. His brother, Erik, was overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. He suffered a catastrophic injury when he was shot in the head. Erik survived, but the injury rendered him a quadriplegic. “He’s doing amazing, and tells everyone that he ‘loves his life, his family and what he does.’ He motivates me and thousands of other warriors, every single day.”

Schei served with the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He went in the service in 2008 and got out in 2013. He was deployed to Afghanistan where he was wounded in 2010. He, along with three other sergeants, were ambushed in a vehicle when they got hit by four 80-mm rockets. “One guy lost his leg, one took a hole in his calf, one was covered in shrapnel, and I took a hole in my calf and thigh, and got hit with shrapnel as well,” described Schei. “But we all made it out. I owe my life to those men who made a great team.”

Schei was in the hospital in San Antonio, Texas for two and half years undergoing recovery procedures and surgeries. “I was one of the lucky ones who got out of there relatively quickly,” he said, as he met some other guys who were in for three to four years.

Tom Grotta, one of the organizers of the day’s fundraising event, said as the second annual event, this is expected to exceed the $60,000 raised last year. A few parents were at a similar type of tournament in Fairfield, CT three years ago. “When we heard the wounded warrior speak at the break, we were inspired to do something like they did in Armonk where there is a great community and facility.”

At Byram Hills High School there were about 700 to 800 kids playing lacrosse and more than 500 adults attended. Matt Grotta, Tom’s son, played JV Goalie. He said, “We’re doing something for a better purpose than winning games. We’re not playing for ourselves, rather we’re playing for everyone else.”

Michelle and Jim Love, as well as Jim Byrne, are lacrosse parents whose kids no longer play at Byram Hills. They volunteered last year and are back again working with the Grottas who they says have great organizational skills to delegate what needs to be done: scheduling the games, coordinating the volunteers, the concession stand, the referees, and the parking.

Over 50 referees were in attendance, said Byrne. Every one of them donated their time. He said that the cost would have been least $6,000 for the day if they were paid. All the food was donated by local businesses, which allowed those funds to go to the WWP.

Grotta said, “It’s great for the kids to see guys like Schei who is out there fighting for our freedom. He is 28 years old, only ten years older than some of these kids.”  

The girls and boys lacrosse players were from Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Rockland County high schools. “Whether they play travel or on school teams, most games are usually played and won at all costs; it’s win or die,” said Grotta. But here it’s just fun. The players are rewarded with a different type of win that supports our wounded soldiers.

Rob Castagna, Byram Hills Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics, said that Schei made a strong connection with the student athletes. Castagna was impressed with how the community embraced this event by the number of volunteers who showed up, the teams, the sponsors, the officials, and the coaches who all donated their time. “The student athletes and how they appreciate what’s being done, says it all.”  

“These kids are a part of something bigger than where we live,” said Beth Grotta, the matriarch of one of many Armonk lacrosse families. “They know there’s a greater world out there that is protecting us. They are playing lacrosse, but they also realize that many people make sacrifices and some can’t be physically active any more.”

Although there is an active American Legion in Armonk, most people don’t realize there are warriors in North Castle who were in the military or who are now serving to continue to fight for our freedom.

No Man Down Fall LAX Classic
Eric Siegle worked with the Grottas to organize the event. He is also President of the Byram Hills Youth Lacrosse program. Siegle has three daughters who played on the Byram Hills lacrosse teams; two still play. “We went to tournaments all over the Northeast,” he said, “and realized that we can do this with our own children to teach them about service and responsibility.”

He added, “Without wanting to get political, if the government is going to send all these people to war, they better take care of them when they come back. It’s a shame that they don’t do that.”

WWP was founded in 2003 by John Melia, who served in Somalia, and survived as a burn victim. He bought 50 backpacks and filled them with tee shirts, shorts, socks, CD players and calling cards. He then delivered them to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The number of backpacks WWP has delivered has grown to 18,695 and continues to be a token of appreciation to veterans so they know that they are not alone. Schei said the reason Melia started the backpack program is that he remembered when he was in the hospital: his uniform was taken away and he was given a hospital gown. “It’s humiliating to put on the gown. Being in a uniform is prideful and you lose that sense of pride.”

WWP has 19 other programs that serve post 9/11 veterans who incurred a physical or mental injury on or after September 11, 2001. WWP also works with coalition forces in the United Kingdom and other national organizations that have the same vision.

Schei said if you want to thank a veteran, express what you appreciate: to be able to come home to a roof over your head; to be with your family and kids; to watch a lacrosse game; to work for a living. “That’s what it’s all about--thanking them for what you are thankful for.”

By 2017, WWP predicts that they will serve 100,000 warriors with $96 million in benefit entitlements.

“We will help in any way, shape or form we can,” said Schei. “The greatest casualty for veterans is being forgotten. We will ensure that what happened to the Vietnam veterans when they came home will never happen again. They are the ones who are stepping up to do all the things for us. We need to be sure they get served as well,” Schei concluded.


Wounded warrior