I’ve been to enough club tournaments that I expect the expected. Screaming coaches. Parents yelling at the refs. Trash talking between players, often mismatched in size. Parents in the stands cheering, parents leaning over the fence yelling not quite as cheerfully. Cranky officials who haven’t had a break in hours melting in the heat. As a career coach, former player, and a sports parent, I’m rarely surprised by anything anymore. But at my son’s first tournament of the summer last weekend, I was reminded that inspiration and humanity rest around every corner, if only we open our eyes to see it.
With all of the usual weekend game madness going on, the focus was on the typical drama all around me, and how my son personally was performing or if he was having fun. I hardly noticed a team all in orange and blue that I passed by several times without a second thought. But between games I overheard a conversation about that orange and blue team, about Team 8.
That’s an intriguing name, I thought. I’ve seen some pretty creative names at summer ball, but something drew me in to ask what this 8 was all about. As I walked over towards their players resting between games, I saw their tent with a banner hanging across it that read Live for Jamie. A single blue jersey with the number 8 hung from the inside of the tent. As I scanned the players I realized that every single player in orange and blue had an 8 in their number. But no one wore the number 8 by itself, only the lone blue jersey held that honor.
It was in the following moments that I found myself wresting with completely different emotions than the typical ones I face at tournaments. Usually I deal with exhaustion, frustration, excitement and even more often, disgust at the whole scene. But as the mother and father of Jamie told me what this team was about, my motherly heart broke and then filled back up with an incredible love of what the lacrosse community stands for, and how it does amazing things when a tragedy strikes.
In 2013, Jamie, a powerful shooter and well-loved middle school attack player nicknamed ‘Rocket Shot’, was on spring break with friends in Florida. He was struck and killed by a car while crossing a busy street. A young life gone in the blink of an eye, a player who had picked up his stick with his teammates for the last time.
Jamie’s love of the sport of lacrosse, and a mission to keep his spirit alive from his family and friends lead to the creation of Team 8 and the Live for Jamie Foundation. This team plays for Jamie’s memory and they all wear his # 8 incorporated into their number. They bring his number 8 jersey to each tournament and hang it up.
I watched Team 8 play. I watched them honor the game of lacrosse. I felt the love they had for their lost teammate, and I saw the pride they took in carrying on their friend’s legacy. I watched them win, play with sportsmanship, with teamwork and skill. I watched Jamie’s parents cheer this team on as though all of the players were a part of their family.
I felt something incredibly powerful stir inside me watching a team playing for something so much bigger and so much more meaningful than a tournament trophy or stats. Everything changes when we play for a cause, especially one that’s meant to uplift and honor. It really could change this game, our sports culture that’s currently rotting, if we all found a greater purpose in our competition and our coaching.
A little hesitant to bother a group of teenage boys, I asked for a picture. These were some of the kindest kids you could ask to meet on a tournament field, and they were honored to show what their team was all about. This, I thought, is what is missing on so many of our fields; purpose, a bigger cause.
The Live for Jamie Foundation creates scholarship opportunities for young lacrosse players. Team 8 creates an opportunity for lacrosse players and athletes of all sports to be inspired when we hear their story to step outside of the travel-scholarship-money triangle and represent something that means so much more. What do you play for? What do you coach for? At the end of the summer, of your career, did it mean something – did it change something for the better? Did you honor anyone – did you honor yourself?
Thank you, Team 8, for reminding me what our community, and our young athletes are capable of. For being open to share your story with me and pose for pictures. As I watched my son’s team play on the adjacent field, I kept close to my heart that this game means more than the tournament atmosphere presents, that there’s a very real and valuable reason we are trying so hard to save youth sports.
We have forgotten, because we’ve been sucked into a whirlwind sports culture that idolizes self centered accolades, that a greater purpose is still there, hiding in the shadows. Instead of walking past the Team 8’s around us, more concerned with what team is in the playoff bracket for the trophy or who our refs will be or who has the best uniforms, we need to stop and get to know the stories and people around us, make our own stories, find our purpose, and play bigger.
What do you play for?
Learn more about the Live for Jamie Foundation, Jamie’s Story, and Team 8 at:www.liveforjamie.com
Kate Leavell is a high school varsity and youth girls’ lacrosse coach in Atlanta. A US Lacrosse Coaches Education Program trainer, she is the author of the Coaches Emergency Practice Guide. Read more of her thoughts at kateleavell.com