HAVERHILL — It's a bruising game where young men whack each other on the arms and shoulders with thick wooden sticks.
But there's a sensitive side to lacrosse, one that roots for the underdog and targets the less fortunate in society, said Bryan Brazill, coach of the Haverhill High boys lacrosse team.
So when Brazill heard from a friend who is a college lacrosse coach that supporting American troops in Iraq was becoming a cause in the lacrosse community, Brazill talked to his players. Without hesitation, they joined in.
"Supporting the troops has become like a cult following in the lacrosse world," Brazill said. "It gives the players a chance to make their (the soldiers') lives a little sunnier, distract them from everyday anxieties.
"The lacrosse world is such a small community," he said. "Once somebody in that community catches on to something, it spreads. You're hard pressed to find a casual lacrosse fan."
The Haverhill High team went to work and collected 18 boxes packed with everything from magazines to soccer and Whiffle balls to canned food and razors. The boxes ranged in weight from 20 to 50 pounds, Brazill said. One of them contained 21 boxes of Slim Jims — among the favorites of soldiers. The boxes have been sent to Iraq.
Americans Supporting Americans, a national organization, linked the lacrosse players to 100 U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq.
The work of the Haverhill High lacrosse players will not stop with the first shipment. They will continue to collect and send items to the 100 soldiers they have adopted, but perhaps more importantly they are establishing communication with them — e-mail "pen pals," as Brazill calls them.
He said one soldier whom he corresponds with is afraid many Americans have forgotten the military personnel in Iraq, and that he and other soldiers are happy to have e-mail contact with the coach and his players.
"He says it's great to know people who recognize their efforts there, whether pro war or against it, letting them know we haven't forgotten about them," Brazill said.
Nick Vazquez, 17, captain of the Haverhill High lacrosse team, said there is a national subculture among players of his sport who support American troops abroad.
"Maybe 40 teams in the entire country do this," he said of sending supplies to soldiers. "Why not support the troops? They do a lot for us."
He said the Haverhill High team sent the supplies to the troops just over a week ago, and plan more collections to support them.
"We went to stores asking to put a donation bucket out, and middle schools, our families and friends," he said. "We had a ball doing it. It was great for team unity. It brought the team together."
Vazquez said he and his teammates are looking forward to corresponding with the soldiers.
"We'll write to them and try to give them comfort," he said, "things to talk about other than war stories."
Recipe for international friendship
38 lacrosse players from Haverhill High
100 American soldiers in Iraq
18 boxes packed with magazines, snacks, soccer balls, razors and other items sent by the players to the soldiers
An e-mail "pen pal" relationship between the soldiers and lacrosse players