By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/19/09
Like a snowball that keeps picking up momentum as it makes its way down the hill, the Katie Samson Lacrosse Festival keep growing and growing.
In 2008, the 8th Annual Festival featured its biggest field (48 teams) and drew over 5,000 people to Radnor High in April. Thanks to corporate donations and tireless work by many volunteers and the Katie Samson Foundation, well over $100,000 was raised for spinal cord research and short-term care. Over $800,000 has been raised since the Foundation’s inception.
The Festival was again a big hit as all of the top boys’ and girls’ teams from the Philadelphia region played before perfect weather. The Festival was developed by Katie’s father, Peter Samson, shortly after the former Radnor High and Middlebury College standout was seriously injured in a sledding accident.
After the morning games, Samson were introduced at the turf field by her former coach, veteran Radnor mentor Phyllis Kilgour. A presentation was made for $10,000 to the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in the name of the Katie Samson Foundation.
Samson – who now resides in Tucson, Ariz. – said she is amazed by the growth of the event and how the entire Philadelphia lacrosse community has embraced the role of fundraising.
“It’s really overwhelming because I spend a large majority of the year not in Philadelphia,” she said. “When I come back it’s overwhelming, emotionally, to see the amount of support. There are so many friends and family members here.”
“Plus, there’s the importance of young people having (more than just) an event to play for. They now can fundraise for the event themselves.”
Samson noted how high school players assist in the fundraising drive by selling Wings tickets and encouraging fans to attend the event.
“Every year it keeps getting bigger and bigger and one team wants to outdo another team for fundraising,” she said. “When have you ever heard of a high school kid wanting to compete to fund raise? That’s tremendous that we can instill that in a young athlete in high school.”
Samson, who became paralyzed from the chest down after a sledding accident in 2000, is pleased that her family members and so many community members spend so much time organizing the event
“The lacrosse community is really a special community,” Samson said. “Being an athlete and being a lacrosse player prior to my injury and having so many of my family members still involved, it’s great to see it continue to grow.
“I got to coach that one year and it was a great way to reconnect back to lacrosse. I miss it so much, but coming back every year brings me back to it.”
The Festival was devised to promote sportsmanship and camaraderie throughout the Philadelphia lacrosse community. It was inspired by the courage and resolve of Samson, who has taught us all about abilities, not disabilities.
Samson’s life changed drastically after her accident, but not her determination and spirit. She rehabilitated herself, returned to Middlebury and continued as a Dean’s list student and helped coach her team to two more NCAA championships.
Samson graduated cum laude with a double major in anthropology and art history and was nominated by college friends to carry the Olympic torch towards the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
“We are proud to be able to support research and also to improve the quality of life of folks with spinal cord injuries,” said Dr. Murray Grossman, the Katie Samson Foundation President. “It’s a devastating condition, but there are tons and tons of things that can be done.
“Katie is enthusiastic and she wants to go ahead and live her life. She’s an inspiration in that regard.”
Later in the year, Peter Samson was named as the winner of the prestigious Founder’s Circle award for founding a successful lacrosse program in the community. He was given his award last weekend at the US Lacrosse National Convention. He wished to share his honor with all the Festival and Foundation officials and volunteers, especially event organizers Bill German, Kathy Early, Mike Barnes and Claire Girton and Dr. Grossman.
Then there were the games. The highlight was Haverford School’s 7-6 double-overtime win over Downingtown East, won on a brilliant goal by Rory O’Connor off a perfect feed from Colton Growney.
“My teammates just set it up perfectly,” said O’Connor, a senior who was mobbed by the Haverford team after the goal. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better setup. It was the greatest experience of my life.”
Also, Westy Hopkins scored four goals to pace eventual state champion la Salle to a to a 9-4 win over Ridley (13-2). La Salle, ranked fourth in the STX/Inside Lacrosse National High School Poll at the time, won its 20th straight game.
In another thriller, Reed Marko scored with 23 seconds left in overtime to lift Germantown Academy to an 8-7 overtime victory over Springfield-Delco. Andrew Sih added three goals for GA.
All the top girls’ teams flexed their muscles. No. 1 Radnor, which eventually finished undefeated and the District 1 Class AAA champion, handled Germantown Academy, 17-3, and eventual AA champion Springfield-Delco toppled eventual Inter-Ac champ Episcopal Academy, 13-6.
Strath Haven All-American Emily Garrity had the top individual performance with a 10-goal outburst in a 16-8 drubbling of Delaware power Tower Hill. Abington (13-0 at the time) raced past Lawrenceville School, 25-6, asRachel Dirksen and Lisa O’Donnell tallied eight goals each.
In a couple of nailbiters, Springside edged Lower Merion 10-9 as Courtney Caputo scored the game-winner in the final four minutes. Also, Hill School nipped Marple Newtown, 13-12.