EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 24, 2008

Haverhill athletes reach out to soldiers in Iraq The tough game of lacrosse shows its sensitive side

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.

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