March 25, 2011

Suicide 'Not a Dirty Word,' Lax-4-Life Organizers Aim to Prove

by Mark Macyk |

Second-ranked Lock Haven is one of several Division II women's lacrosse teams at the genesis of Lax-4-Life, an adolescent suicide awareness fundraiser and now a registered non-profit that has expanded to 63 teams across all divisions.

What's become an annual rite of spring in Pennsylvania, is about to go national.

Since 2009, teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference have hosted games dedicated to Lax-4-Life with rival teams warming up in matching shirts and coming together for pictures in support of a common cause. Last year it spread throughout Division II, with 36 teams pitching in.

You can't keep a good idea down. Starting this weekend, 63 women's lacrosse teams spread across all three NCAA levels will come together for two weeks in support of that cause, adolescent suicide awareness.

"It's not a dirty word and that needs to be understood," said Alicia Groveston, who coached at Gannon when the initiative began and is now at Grand Valley State. "There is a need for this age group. There's so much pressure, and there needed to be more out there. We want to make sure there are resources for those who are struggling or who have been left behind."

Until this year the foundation has primarily donated to the Allyson Rose Green Memorial Foundation, a foundation close to the PSAC and named in honor of Allyson Green, the younger sister of former West Chester goalie Mary Beth Green, who died from cardiac arrest caused by suicide in 2006 at the age of 15. In 2010, Lax-4-Life raised $17,000 for the foundation. Organizers have already raised more this year and plan to expand the outreach.

"It will absolutely have a ripple effect," said West Chester coach Ginny Martino who, along with Groveston and Lock Haven's Kristen Selvege, is one of three coaches on Lax-4-Life's board. "Now it's not just within Pennsylvania. It's New York. It's Massachusetts. They have local chapters that would absolutely benefit in getting some of this money."

To handle the growth, and allow more control over where the money went, Lax-4-Life incorporated into a non-profit this month. The website will launch this summer. Groveston, whose Grand Valley State team is practicing every day but won't begin games until 2012, has been tasked lately with much of the day-to-day operations.

"[Groveston]'s been amazing," Selvege said. "She's very passionate about it. She took on a lot of work. She's getting all these t-shirts out, and we're really hoping to double everything. We're just incredibly proud of what we're doing. We want to make a difference."

Grand Valley State hasn't even played an official game yet, but the players can't wait to contribute Lax-4-Life.

"This gets them excited," Groveston said. " We've hosted a couple of tournaments and sold bracelets. I have 15 kids practicing without playing a game, but they can already see what's going on."

Schools are free to handle the Lax-4-Life events in any way they choose. Teams have done it in a variety of ways, from selling t-shirts, yellow wristbands and ribbons to hosting goal-a-thons and donating money collected at the gate. Lock Haven will host a walk on April 2 when Rollins and Edinboro come to campus. There's no exact figure on money raised in 2011 yet -- the games haven't started -- but the foundation has already sold close to 1,800 t-shirts and 900 wrist bands.

Evidence of the cause's growth beyond Pennsylvania can be seen at C.W. Post, where at the Pioneers' March 30 game against Bridgeport, in-game donations will go to the Alexis Pilkington Foundation, honoring a West Islip High School lacrosse and soccer player, who was a friend of many of Post's players.

The goal this year was to expand to include all of Division II, but as word got out, teams across all levels became involved.

"I think our passion is starting to really catch fire with everyone in the lacrosse community," Groveston said. "Seeing young, enthusiastic coaches, whether it's high school or college, it's just ridiculous how much it's grown in the past two years. The different things we can do, the options are limitless. It's not just lacrosse."

Martino echoed that sentiment.

"This is a cause that has no boundaries. It affects everyone. Lacrosse, baseball, softball, field hockey -- every team on every campus has been touched by the unfortunate suicide of a sibling or a college student," she said. "This is on the minds of a lot of people and a lot teams. Teams are definitely looking to use their popularity on campus to help a cause. The potential is mind boggling. It will only take time."

Lax-4-Life kicks off at campuses across the country this weekend. No. 8 West Chester hosts No. 9 Gannon Friday at 4 p.m. No. 2 Lock Haven plays at East Stroudsburg Friday at 4 p.m.

Click here for more information about Lax-4-Life.

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