Chris Elsberry: Bike ride raises money, awareness for Bridgeport lacrosse
Updated 7:42 pm, Wednesday, July 31, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- It didn't take Harley Brown long to realize that he needed to do something more.
Brown, a senior-to-be at Denver University, had just finished coaching a local lacrosse clinic with Don Wilson. Once he heard the story of Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse program and what Wilson is trying to do in terms of growing the sport throughout the city, he quickly told his friend Jack Vaughn.
Vaughn is a senior-to-be at Purdue. The two met as eighth-graders in the New Canaan Youth Lacrosse program. And while Brown will be starting his final collegiate season as a defenseman for the Pioneers, Vaughn, who played in college at Skidmore, had to stop playing due to the effects of a concussion. Together, they created www.laxtrainers.com, a website designed to connect players with private coaches. And while that venture has earned serious positive response, what they accomplished last weekend was even more impressive.
For eight days and over 400 miles, Brown and Vaughn cycled around the state, raising awareness and raising, they hope, as much at $10,000 to help Wilson and the Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse program eventually buy a van to transport players to and from practice. The ride was filmed and is going to be made into a documentary to raise even more awareness throughout the lacrosse community.
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"We all need to grow the game of lacrosse," Vaughn said. "And not just as private trainers. We need to develop lacrosse as much as we can, especially in communities where lacrosse isn't already prominent. We do that by reaching out and helping those communities and giving them the extra things they need to be more successful."
So, the two took to the road -- neither had any real cycling experience at all -- and toured the state. They survived three flat tires, a couple of crashes and two very sore backsides to help raise money so Wilson can get a van to help his kids.
"They heard about what we were doing here in Bridgeport and they reached out to me and asked how they could help our program," Wilson said. "I told them our biggest need was transportation, getting kids to and from practice because so many parents work. So they decided to take up the cause and do a bike tour around the state to spread awareness and to raise money to support our efforts. It will definitely go a long way to help us."
Even Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch chipped in with his gratitude.
"It is great to see two young men giving back to benefit the youth of Bridgeport," said the mayor in an e-mailed statement. "Their efforts have helped bring awareness to the great work of Don Wilson, who is dedicated to bringing lacrosse to our children through Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse."
Brown started playing lacrosse in fourth grade in the New Canaan Youth Lacrosse program and went to Fairfield Prep, where he was part of three state championship teams. Part of the Prep tradition is doing service work and some of Brown's service work brought him to Bridgeport.
"At Prep, our motto is "Men for Others" and by the end of it all, I was helping out (in Bridgeport) and I started to really love the community," he said. "It's almost natural now to help out. It a shame that it's (lacrosse) not supported better. That's where we come in."
"We wanted to give back to the local lacrosse community one way or another," Vaughn said. "We wanted to help this program advance. They were sort of the perfect fit."
At the moment, Wilson says that he has around 75 kids involved in the Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse program and that many took part in a recent tournament at Fairfield University that was organized by Stags head coach Andy Copeland.
"There were college scouts looking at the kids, saying they were looking good and doing well," Wilson said. "They were talking to the kids about their grades, making sure that they are doing the right things. It was an amazing tournament in that aspect."
Better yet, lacrosse is now being introduced into the Bridgeport middle-school athletic program, allowing kids to learn the sport earlier. In addition, Central's club team continues to make positive strides. The Hilltoppers won three games last season and have a new head coach, Shane Martin, who Wilson says is committed to eventually to re-establishing Central as a varsity sport.
"We're on the verge of really taking off," Wilson said. "We're getting more of the community involved and we're doing some great things with the kids."
And the bike ride with Brown and Vaughn was just the start.
"We are ready and willing to support them," Vaughn said. "With whatever they need in the future."