After 20 children and six adults were fatally gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the world turned their eyes to the small town and tried to understand how something so unspeakably tragic could happen.
Copious attention was bestowed upon the December 14th shooting. The lead story in every newscast in North America was about Sandy Hook Elementary. All the while, the small community was trying to grieve their losses and stay strong, knowing their journey through heartache was just beginning.
The news spread like wildfire to professional athletes who were admired and loved by the victims and in turn, the athletes took a moment from their lives to recognize and connect with the families of their fans.
But the Major Lacrosse League wanted to do something different, something a little more personal.
The NLL and Warrior Sports, a sports equipment company based in Detroit, selected nine professional lacrosse players and organized a day in Newtown, December 27, to give the kids in the community a chance to focus on a game they love.
The league called it ‘Healing Newtown Through Lacrosse’.
Among the nine players involved was Calgary Roughnecks’ Geoff Snider, the only Canadian, who arrived in the town of just over 27,000 people just a couple days after Christmas.
Eerie. That’s how the 31-year-old described the town, a day after being there.
"You see everything about Sandy Hook and what went on there and it’s a lovely community; it’s beautiful. Connecticut is very white collar and stereotypically, you don’t expect things to happen in communities like that and what I learned really quickly is that stuff like this happens everywhere," he said.
"It was like you couldn’t tell that anything went on, but there was a giant elephant in the room for us, that’s for sure."
Warrior has regional ties to Newtown, where lacrosse is ingrained in the community and wanted to give local kids a day to worry about nothing else. For four hours that afternoon, nine lacrosse players coached and drilled kids aged 10-17 through four training groups, providing a much-needed distraction.
"I go the sense from the parents that something a lot bigger was going on, but the kids are so innocent and it seemed like they were having a lot of fun. I spent a lot of time one-on-one with some of them and thankfully, for some of them, their innocence doesn’t lend itself to understand what’s really going on," said Snider.
"There were kids who were involved and kids that weren’t, but there were a handful of kids that were at Sandy Hook when [the shooting] happened and you could tell they were pretty withdrawn and something pretty major has gone on in their lives."
For Snider, the founder of a Calgary-based Elev8 Lacrosse, running teens through drills and lacrosse scenarios was seemingly just another day at work, but he says there was more to it in Newtown.
"I was just trying to turn it into a great experience for some of these kids and teach them some of the in’s and out’s of the game. But that being said, there were moments when I thought about how that could actually happen or how anybody could do something to hurt a group of young kids."
"It was pretty surreal for all us throughout the day; a few of the guys have kids and even for those of us who don’t, there were moments where we took a step back and shared in their pain, but there’s no way we could ever empathize with them," he said. "Just spending the day with those kids, it was great to be a healthy release for what they were going through but there were moments of just disbelief and reflection on how this could actually happen."
Sitting in the New Jersey airport, less than 24 hours after spending an afternoon in Newtown, Snider recalled the thankfulness he was greeted with by the parents of kids he worked with.
"I’ve never had a more polite, respectful group of parents really appreciate that we took time out to come down there and work with their kids. They were so thrilled, but obviously, it was very, very minor, what we did. There’s a huge process for them moving forward from a healing standpoint and I think they were just thrilled that the kids had something to take their minds off all the attention the community is getting."
Snider is no stranger to being part of the community and using his job as a professional athlete to connect with kids and people of all ages through lacrosse. But he describes his afternoon on December 27 as a humbling and rewarding experience.
"It’s a sad time there. It really makes you respect and appreciate all that you have and moving forward, how much more we can help out," he said.
"You look at how fortunate we are to have what we have and to be able to do what we do and that was one of those moments where I felt really lucky to be in a position where I could lend a hand and make a difference in someone’s day."