Origins of a Friendship (Creation)
A year and a half ago, my friend Lee Roggenburg of Florida Lacrosse News invited me to coach the Florida High School Lacrosse All Star Game. I was surprised by this, considering I oversee a newer lacrosse program who haven’t yet made an appearance on the state stage, but I was grateful to be included. It was a special year for me — a player who’d been with me since my first year at Calvary was graduating, and he was selected to play in the game. So Lee gave me one last opportunity to coach this player I’d grown to care for deeply, and I was excited to soak up every moment.
When I arrived at the field that day, Lee introduced me to the other coach of our All Star team, Scott Rickard, the head coach at Immokalee High School. Scott and I immediately hit it off and quickly discovered we share a similar coaching philosophy: player over program. We both believe sustained success comes not from identifying talent and filling your roster with whomever might score more goals, but from developing talent through long-term investment in the whole lives of young players who are destined to become husbands, fathers, employees, employers and (hopefully) coaches someday. This is a challenging road, but one that Scott is committed to at Immokalee, and that made an immediate impression on me.
By the time the game ended, Scott and I agreed that our programs should play each other next season and agreed to stay in touch. Over the next few months we decided on a day during the Spring lacrosse season, 2017. The day came, and Immokalee traveled to Fort Lauderdale — about an hour and a half across Alligator Alley — to square off with us. I was bummed when I figured out we’d scheduled the game on a day I was out of town, but Gary Fuchs, our other coach at Calvary, was ready to lead our boys into battle.
I was three hundred miles away, but I had parents texting me the play-by-play throughout the whole game. Calvary held an advantage for most of the game, but Immokalee poured it on over the last quarter and came back from five goals down to beat us 9–7. They never, ever quit. As we do with all our home games, we invited our opponent to stay and eat dinner with us right there at the field before they began the journey home. Our coaches, players and parents absolutely loved spending time with the families and coaches from Immokalee, hearing their stories and laughing together.
Scott shared with me that many of his players’ parents work in agriculture in and around Immokalee, and several of his players work the local fields as well. It’s a rural area with limited resources, but the Immokalee lacrosse family is filled with hard-working, humble, talented young men who are committed to each other. They are a program we will always keep on our schedule.
The Storm (Fall)
Fast forward to September, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the Caribbean and South Florida, and we were all scrambling to prepare. As the storm got closer, it made a turn straight for southwest Florida and ended up directly striking the town of Immokalee. A few days before the storm I shot an email to Scott and let him know that the Calvary Lacrosse family will be ready to help his team and their families in any way they need once the storm passes. He was grateful for the note and promised to keep me posted.
The day after the storm hit, I emailed him again and he indicated conditions were bad in Immokalee. He couldn’t give me details but he said he would circle back with me when he knew what his families needed. This past Sunday, September 24th, he sent me an email with a request for help. He asked us to provide gift cards to local stores like WinnDixie, CVS, Family Dollar, Citgo and Walmart to help sustain families after many were dealing with disrupted income and, in some cases, severe damage to their homes. I let him know we would get on it immediately.
I called Gary Fuchs and our Athletics Director Keith Huisman to let them know the plan, and they both agreed we needed to make this happen. Gary and his amazing wife Elyse immediately offered to match any amount we raised, which instantly doubled everyone’s efforts. After getting off the phone with Gary, I sent an email to all 250 of our Calvary Lacrosse families asking them to buy gift cards for the Immokalee Lacrosse families, and to do it as quickly as possible. What happened next is something I’m still trying to wrap my head around.
Stepping In and Stepping Up (Redemption)
Within moments, I began to receive emails and text messages from our families saying they were ready to get gift cards to me without hesitation. By Monday morning, I had students and parents coming to my classroom with bags full of cards. By the end of the first day our families had given more than a thousand dollars worth of gift cards! The Turner family sprung into action as well, promising to match up to $500 in giving. They ended up rallying $1,100 to bump the total up even further. On Tuesday, one of our families came to me saying they were going to bring me one hundred $25 Walmart cards. I couldn’t even process it. Next morning, dad showed up in my classroom with $2,500 in gift cards! It was snowballing, and every time Gary and I got on the phone to talk about the totals, we laughed nervously at what was happening, but we were losing our minds with joy the whole time.
By Friday night, we’d put together $9,780 in gift cards. Right before I went to bed, I decided to run out to CVS to pick up another $220 in gift cards, making the total exactly $10,000. Let me spell that out: TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!! IN FIVE DAYS!!! I laid in bed that night trying to sleep, but I couldn’t. The next morning, this past Saturday, I got up early and went to pick up Bryce and our team captains Ben and Ajay to blast across Alligator Alley to bring the cards to Scott and several of his players. We were set to meet them at Immokalee High School at 9:30 in the morning.
The drive over there was filled with laughter and deep conversation about the true nature of our lacrosse program at Calvary. We spoke about legacy and how these seniors were setting the stage for future CCA lacrosse players’ involvement in the work of the Kingdom. We arrived in Immokalee, surveying the damage as we drove through the town. We finally made our way to the high school and found Scott and several of his players in the front parking lot.
When we got out we were greeted by the same young men who had beaten us on the field valiantly a few months before, and they carried themselves with the same humility and kindness we saw that day. Scott introduced them by name, and then introduced Laura Mendocino, the principal of the local elementary school. We shared with them the story of how our families came together over the last week to put this donation together, and then we handed over the heavy envelope, filled with $10,000 in gift cards. It was stunning. Mrs. Mendocino struggled to fight back her tears, which triggered my own and even some of our boys’. It was one of the heaviest, most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced as a coach.
Mrs. Mendocino, overwhelmed with joy, tried to explain to us how many families would benefit from the donation. She described families who have lost everything who will now be able to rebuild their lives. She talked about the database she has that will help ensure the families in greatest need will be able to receive the gift cards. She even knows which families own cars and which do not, so that she can distribute the cards according to the families’ geographic access to the various stores. We were blown away by her commitment to this community, as well as Coach Rickard’s; Scott is an ESE specialist at the school and commutes an hour every day, to and from work. He’s been doing it for more than a decade. Our CCA boys quickly discovered they were in the presence of the real heroes of this story.
After our time with Mrs. Mendocino, we all jumped in our cars and drove around to the back part of campus to throw the lacrosse ball around on the field for a few minutes. Watching the boys hang out and interact through the game that originally brought us together was once again a moment of pure beauty. It was an expression of humanity in its ultimate form: friendship, equality, play.
After a while, Scott called us in — he had to head out with some of the players to a fund raiser he was running for the benefit of his families. I was reminded again that today was the day we were invited into something far bigger than we, and into the faithful work to which this man has committed his life. As our time came to a close, we got to spend our last few moments praying together as our two teams became one. A few of the players stayed with us and took us to a local restaurant for an early lunch. We were treated to some great tacos and got to hear more stories from these great young men about their families and their future hopes and dreams.
After lunch the boys and I said our goodbyes and told the Immokalee guys they better be ready for us this season! It was their turn to host us for our game… we can’t wait to get back there. Mrs. Mendocino said she would try and get the beneficiary families to come to the game, and Scott said he would get a restaurant to cater a dinner afterwards so that our CCA Lacrosse families could get to spend time with them. We are really looking forward to that night, the Thursday before Good Friday, 2018… perfect timing I think.
On our way out of town we drove through some neighborhoods and saw some of the devastation that Irma wrought. We were encouraged to see that many homes appeared to have survived the hit, but heartbroken when we encountered entire properties destroyed. We saw a lot of roof damage and countless trees down. But everywhere we looked, we saw neighbors helping neighbors to rebuild. This is a town filled with people who care about each other and it was an awesome sight to see.
Better Days Ahead (Restoration)
When you step back from the Gospel, you might discover a remarkable pattern. From Genesis to Revelation, the story of God’s interaction with His beloved people traverses a path from Creation to the Fall, to Redemption to Restoration. It contains in it the promise of hope that, no matter how bad things get, suffering is only temporary and something better is coming soon. This is the framework of the human experience: everything we encounter in this life, our struggles, our relationships, our thoughts and our victories, all follow this cycle. I think the point of being human is that when we are confronted with the brokenness in the world, we are supposed to enter into it the way Jesus did and lay ourselves down for the sake of others. I think this is what it means to be like Christ. I think this is what He means by, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Over the last week, I have had a front row seat to the profound Christlikeness reflected by our CCA Lacrosse family, Coach Rickard, Mrs. Mendocino, the lacrosse players at Immokalee High School, and the beautiful people in that town. In our current climate of political polarization, I’ve been reminded that the love of God has no color, no class, no party affiliation, and no conditions. We love because He is love. We care for each other because He cares for us. We go to the ends of the earth because the whole earth is teeming with image bearers who simultaneously suffer and provide the antiseptic agent to suffering, which is nothing less than the presence of God Himself.
This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, to see our young men and women, and their moms and dads, and our new friends, decide to participate in Christ’s plan of redemption for this world. It has changed me in ways I can’t articulate at the moment. Later that day we were back in Fort Lauderdale at our club lacrosse practice. I said to the boys, “We can measure the impact this effort has made because of the loss sustained by Hurricane Irma in Immokalee. It’s about $10,000. It’s great, but it has limits. What we can’t measure is the eternal impact this will have on the people involved, and on future CCA Lacrosse players and their families. You are leaving a legacy of unprecedented generosity, and as the guy who will be here long after you graduate, I will get to tell this story as a way of inspiring a culture of Christlikeness and limitless redemptive intent for generations to come. And that is the real gift here.”