Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/16/17
On Thursday night under the lights at St. Joseph’s University, St. Joseph’s Prep took on Don Bosco Prep in a hotly-contested interstate matchup. On this cool night, however, more than just a big win or bragging rights were on the line.
This game served as the unveiling of what Army Veteran Vincent Ruiz, an Iraq veteran, hopes will become an annual, multi-team event that pits teams from across the Northeast corridor against each other, then follows the competition up with a service event that unites those teams the next day. This “battling against” on one night only to “unite to serve” the next, as Ruiz notes, is done with “intention,” as teams play and work together not just in the spirit of competition but in honor of fallen heroes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Indeed, Thursday night’s game did just that, as it was played in honor or Navy Seal Brendan Looney, a standout lacrosse defenseman at the Naval Academy and DeMatha Catholic High who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2010.
Don Bosco’s team, wearing military-inspired jerseys for the game, made a special jersey with Looney’s name and number on the back for Ruiz, who has spent this year working with the Don Bosco squad through the Travis Manion Foundation’s Character Does Matter program. Don Bosco’s assistant coach, Sergeant Major Frank Lugo, was Ruiz’s platoon commander in Iraq in 2008, and knows well the values the Foundation and the coaching staff seek to impart in the players, in particular those virtues-based leadership qualities like integrity, grit and resilience, moral and physical courage, gratitude, hope, and a commitment to community service.
In accordance with the plan, the Hawks – who won Thursday’s game, 9-6 – and the Ironman met Friday afternoon in South Philadelphia at the Marian Anderson Community Center to clean up a community pool to prepare it for the community for the 2017 summer season.
There, teams, working together side by side, collected bags and bags of leaves and trash. They were also reminded before the event by Charlie Elison, an Army reservist who with Ruiz coordinated this game and project, that serving with each other in the community in honor of the fallen is our ultimate duty and challenge. Elison and Ruiz had spoken to the teams on the field after the game the night before, too, reflecting on the leadership values Looney imparted to his teammates on the field and in his multiple deployments as a Navy Seal.
The Travis Manion Foundation was at the heart of this two-day inaugural event. Travis Manion, a Doylestown native who attended La Salle College High and went on to wrestle at the Naval Academy, was Looney’s roomate and best friend at the Academy. Manion was killed while saving his comrades in Iraq in a sniper attack in 2007.
The Travis Manion Foundation, started by Manion’s family and headed by his sister Ryan Manion, serves Gold Star families through service programs that honor the fallen. The Foundation also provides job transition workshops for veterans of recent wars. Beyond these two services, the Foundation organizes leadership workshops, called “Character Does Matter” programming, to high schools through the generous support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Veterans of recent wars facilitate these after-school workshops for a select group of sophomores and juniors in high schools, as they have at St. Joe’s Prep since 2014, and for teams, as Ruiz has done for Don Bosco Lacrosse this year.
Ultimately, coming together for competition and service in this two-day event–called the Spartan Cup–engaged student-athletes and their families in an exercise of gratitude for all those who have served this nation, and in particular those fallen heroes of recent wars who embodied the leadership values Prep coach Sean Delaney and Don Bosco coach Brendan Gorman want to teach their young players.
Ruiz and Elison continue to be excited about bringing together 60 high school students on the field and in the community to play and serve in honor of the fallen. In a game won by St. Joe’s Prep, both teams won, as Don Bosco looks to return to Philadelphia next year for some revenge and both teams look forward to a special kind of rematch that honors through competition and service all in order to thank those who have put their lives on the line for our country.
Army veteran Vincent Ruiz was in the Army for 12 years and worked as a Civil Affairs Team Sergeant and training sergeant. He deployed in support of Operation Iraqui Freedom twice and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). Army Reservist Charlie Elison is the Travis Manion Foundation’s Northeast Program Coordinator.