By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/13/09
The Upper Darby boys’ lacrosse team got a special and unexpected thank you last weekend from its adopted heroes in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.
Four members of the division drove 14 hours from their base in Fort Campbell, Ky., to thank the Royals’ squad for sending over 100 boxes of supplies and goodies to the troops during their recent 15-month deployment in Afghanistan. The Royals team had adopted the platoon as part of a Senior Graduation Project organized by nine players.
The four division members – Lt. Shiv Kumar, Staff Sgts. Nicole Adkins and Militza Guzman and Sgt. Eric Buterbaugh, – were joined by Staff Sgt. Charlene Purnell, who was home on leave visiting her mother in Philadelphia. They were welcomed Saturday at a reception at Drexel Hill Middle School by the team members, the Boosters Club and Upper Darby Superintendent Lou De Vlieger and Principal Chris Dormer.
On Sunday the troops of Alpha Company 801st Brigade Support Battalion came to Drexel Hill to watch the team play in a lacrosse tournament.
“When we got to see the five on Saturday, it really meant a lot to us,” said Upper Darby senior Rob Foster, the lead organizer of the project. “It meant a lot all throughout the project, but once they came up and said ‘Thank you’ with a handshake, we knew it meant something to them.”
Foster, along with twins Jon and Chris Neigh, Jack Bostic, Dillon Burke, Dave Gasbarro, Nate Sirkin, Jake Syre, and A.J. Zackey organized the project, with guidance from Royals coach Walt Udovich.
For the Senior Project, students are expected to work 30 hours of community service. Lacrosse Boosters Club President Joe Niagara suggested the team could adopt a platoon to Udovich in the summer before junior year and Foster said the nine players loved the idea.
Foster said they found a program in a Google search where civilians could adopt a platoon through the Americans Supporting Americans program, and the players then began raising money and gathering everyday supplies to send to the troops that were either donated or purchased through Dollar Stores. The team ran several car washes and during the 15-month period managed to send over 100 boxes ($11 a box) of items.
“They got their first 10 boxes right in beginning of the summer (of 2008),” said Foster. “There were things we take for granted – a pack of gum, razors, cans of soup, mints, pens, sunflower seeds, crossword puzzles, DVDs … they loved it.
“They didn’t have any of these things. They said the only place (like home) in Afghanistan was a downtown Pizza Hut.”
Foster said all the players on the team pitched in with items, money or time. The players knew the troops were getting the care packages, but communication was difficult.
“We got a few e-mails here and there because they were so busy,” Foster said. “But the e-mails all came with pictures.”
One of those shots was the picture of the platoon holding the Upper Darby Royals team banner. The boxes sent over to Afghanistan normally weighed around 18 pounds; one was as heavy as 70 pounds.
Foster said Niagara continued to help out with the project and remained in contact with the division members when they returned from Afghanistan several months ago. The Royals learned recently that the members of the division were going to make the drive up from Kentucky to personally thank them.
“They got to see us play two games,” Foster said, noting that none of them had ever played lacrosse but that they enjoyed watching the sport. “One went to a high school where lacrosse was a big, so he knew about the sport.”
At the reception Friday night, the division members stayed for nearly three hours and enjoyed pizza with the team, coaches and Boosters as everyone watched a slide show of the troops in Afghanistan. The team presented the troops with several flags and, in turn, they received a plaque and numerous military flags and signs. They also received a flag signed by all the members of the 801st Brigade.
Foster said the group of nine seniors will have to present their project in front of three teachers, provide a description of what they did and reflect on the value of their service.
“We will have plenty to talk about,” he said. “We have to worry about how not to go over the 12 minutes of time we have.”
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