Archdiocese Local Schools Youth & young adult

Keeping their heads in the game

St. Thomas Aquinas junior Morgan Cussigh buckles up her new helmet in an April 16 match with St. James Academy. Although helmets are not mandatory in girls lacrosse, Aquinas head coach Doug Davis felt it was important to have them, and the girls set out to raise funds to buy them. PHOTO BY ROBBIE SCHRAEDER

by Olivia Martin

OVERLAND PARK — What do bagging groceries, helmets and a passion for safety have in common?

The St. Thomas Aquinas High School girls lacrosse team.

On March 24, these girls didn’t spend all day “checking” at HyVee in Lenexa. But they did spend it bagging groceries for donations in an effort to fundraise and purchase helmets for all team members, a need that has been growing for three years.

The girls lacrosse program started in 2015 with 23 girls and has steadily grown to include one varsity and two junior varsity teams for a total of 61 girls.

While in boys lacrosse, helmets are required, Florida is currently the only state in the country that requires girls lacrosse teams to wear helmets.

“I work as a safety professional for an insurance company,” said Aquinas head coach Doug Davis.

“So I’ve followed various athletic injuries over the years and tried to make sure I was up to date,” he said. “One of the trends I started to notice and read about was concussions — not only in lacrosse but across multiple sports.”

The combination of that knowledge with the experience of the team with blows to the head, led Davis, parents and players to decide helmets needed to be part of the uniform.

“I decided that, as a safety professional, I couldn’t stand by and not have helmets worn by a team that I am coaching,” he said.

After researching and comparing equipment, the team ordered 61 helmets at a cost of $7,000 — a price “well worth our girls’ health,” said parent representative Joan Hillyer.

“The coaches on the team,” said Davis, “have donated what would have been their pay for their time and expenses toward the helmets this year.”

But even with this generosity, the need for funding for the helmets persisted.

Hillyer, whose daughter is on the lacrosse team, heard of the fundraising opportunity at HyVee through another parent, and the girls were eager to take up the idea and lead the fundraiser themselves.

“We set up sacks at the checkout,” said Hillyer, “and they just worked for donations . . . from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

To the untrained eye, sacking groceries may look like a simple task — but looks certainly can be deceiving. Lily Abadir, a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas, was surprised by the challenges it posed.

“We sacked all of the groceries and probably the hardest part was figuring out how to nicely stack them,” she said.

The girls were able to raise around $1000 from donations that Saturday.

“They did really well — they were busy!” said Hillyer, adding how the girls received many compliments on their work ethic, enthusiasm and politeness.

“As we were [working],” said Abadir, “we talked to the customers, asking them how their day was — and we made sure to wish them a happy Easter.”

“We met a man whose kids and grandkids were Aquinas alumni,” she continued. “One of the employees we got to know was from the Ukraine and . . . she told us all about her life [there]. That was really cool!”

From working out how to prevent breaking eggs and smashing bread to keeping the bags light enough for elderly customers to carry, Abadir found foresight and good communication skills were necessary to do the job well — useful skills both on the lacrosse field and in life.

“There was a lot more communication than we expected,” said Abadir. “That definitely helped us communicate better with each other.”

Understanding that playing lacrosse is much more than playing a game, Davis uses his coaching post as an opportunity to teach the girls about themselves.

“Part of being a good coach is teaching life lessons,” he said. “We bring Christ into the mix in that we start each practice and game with a [player-led] prayer,” and the girls always share their prayer intentions as well.

Being part of the lacrosse team, fundraising, and participating in teamwork and prayer has taught Abadir a method for living her faith.

“Everything is always in God’s hands,” said Abadir. “Everything happens for a reason — it’s God’s plan.”

“If you lose, it’s OK,” she said. “Even with the highs when you’re winning or if there’s a good play, we can see we’re sisters in Christ [and] God’s cheering you on no matter what.”

Hopes for the team are high that they may continue to improve and grow in their faith with a decreased risk for concussion.

“Hopefully,” said Hillyer, “[with the purchase of the helmets] we can set a trend that will encourage other teams in the league to get helmets to protect the girls.”

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Olivia Martin

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