By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/29/16
Braeden Lange said his biggest thrill today at the 2nd Annual Courage Game was meeting a boy his age who came to meet his hero.
“The best thing today was a kid named Alex who wrote me a sweet letter telling me how I was his inspiration,” said Downingtown’s Lange, 13, the creator of the Courage Game. “He is not from here and it was heartwarming knowing he came here just to meet me.”
Alex was one of more than 1,000 that participated in the event at Penn Penn in Philadelphia. Lacrosse games were held for players from 3 year-olds to men and women in their 50s and and above to celebrate acceptance with a mission to encourage and support gay youth, rebuke bullying, and promote wider education and awareness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality. Donations and all other funds raised go directly to supporting the work to spread the mission, impact lives, and bring inclusivity to all youth sports.
The event was much larger than last year’s inaugural event and expanded to feature a women’s division of games and many Division I coaches as game coach volunteers. Legendary Princeton coach Chris Sailey was a guest speaker and gave a resounding speech that promoted acceptance and anti-bullying. Overall, six games were played and the day ended with the famed Thompson bothers coming to meet Braden and show off their skills.
The event – intended to be held on Championship weekend, hosted by Philly – was co-run and sponsored by NXT Sports and sponsors such as Lacrosse All-Stars, Nike, US Lacrosse and You Can Play Project have been driving forces behind the push.
Braeden Lange is a 7th-grader from Lionville who has played lacrosse for seven years and is on three youth teams, Lionville, Freedom Lax and Tripe H. He broke many barriers last year by coming out and developing the Courage Game concept and has become a national figure and leader in the movement of acceptance.
“I just think it’s so amazing that more people showed up today,” said Lange. “That just gives more awareness for LGBT youth and anti-bullying. The more people we have, the easier it is to (get the message out).”
Lange said another highlight was just playing the game he loves.
“I just played my game and had three goals and an assist and a lot of fun just playing with all my friends,” he said. “It’s so weird since I am doing what I love; and at the same time I am inspiring people like me. It feels amazing knowing I am helping other people.”
Does Lange deal with criticism or bullying?
“I don’t get negativity any more,” he said. “When I did I used it as fuel to be better than I was the day before.”
Braden’s father, Scott Lange, said the lacrosse community has embraced Braeden and his message.
“The idea behind doing this was something we put together in six weeks last year and the response was far bigger than what we expected,” he said. “That drove us to do it again. We got an even bigger response and more people wanted to come out. It’s just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger.
“My father played lacrosse, I played lacrosse and my kids play lacrosse. What we have seen is that lacrosse is the most fraternal of all sports. We take care of each other and we watch out for one another. The lacrosse community has rallied around not only my son, but anyone who has issues. It lets you know if you can play the game, you can play the game. I have seen some amazing things. We had 12-year-olds that said, ‘Hey, I have two moms.’
“If you can play, you can play.”
NXT’s Dylan Brown, the event coordinator, said the event has grown beyond the barriers of just lacrosse.
“This event really symbolizes something interesting for our generation,” he said. “We have a responsibility to lead the older groups and the next generation into how it’s supposed to be.
“Everyone can play sports. You see 3 year-olds out here this morning working with Chris Sailer and then you see grown men 56 years old out here showing kids what it’s about. Sports is for everyone, no one is out of it and this is an important mission. It’s an important message and a great event.”
The Penn Park setting was ideal – with the city of Brotherly Love set in the background and people of all sexes, orientations and beliefs standing together.
“I think these are the two best fields in the city,” said Brown. “I think you’ve got the city right there, trains going by and a place where everyone can walk to. So many people turned out. Braeden is a courageous kid.”
NXT girls’ club director Kate Henwood, a former Division I coach and head coach of two-time PIAA champion Garnet Valley, was thrilled to see the girls’ division added. She noted that at least seven college coaches volunteered to help coach games, including Sailer (Haverford High grad, Hall of Famer), Liz Robertshaw (Boston University head coach, Strath Haven grad), Ali Fisher (Lafayette head coach, Hatboro-Horsham grad) and Katie Woods (UConn head coach).
“Scott (Lange) asked us to support the event and it made a lot of sense to add the girls’ division,’ said Henwood. “The support was overwhelming from the college side and we had a bunch of D1 head coaches coaching 7th and 8th graders.
“Chris Sailer gave an amazing speech. It sends chills and hit home. She is so articulate. Her main message was that sports are for everyone, no matter your race religion, orientation, age or anything. Everyone should be able to play sports and other teammates should support you. She said that straight players need to be advocates and allies for gay athletes. She did an amazing job.”