As professional athletes, Joe Walters and Kyle Hartzell have dealt with countless high-pressure situations leading up to and including their current careers in the Professional Lacrosse League.
But the anxiousness they each experienced leading up to their visit to the Saugus High School lacrosse team on Jan. 15 couldn’t compare to any of those situations.
“I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve been a part of something like this, and that’s a good thing, this shouldn’t happen,” Walters said. “It was kind of … it’s a very tough situation. You’re dealing with kids that have been through some trauma and you don’t know how they’re doing, how they’re coping.”
Saugus High School, a public school in Santa Clarita, suffered a tragic school shooting on Nov. 14 that left three students dead and another three injured.
After some Saugus parents had reached out, US Lacrosse asked Walters and Hartzell if they were interested in holding a clinic for the Centurions. The pair agreed. When they arrived at the school, the prep lacrosse players were doing well, all things considered.
The team had already began to use lacrosse as a way to heal. The night of the shooting, they met as a team at a coach’s house. That weekend, they played in a tournament.
“It’s just, get back into like a more normal type of thing and to put our heads into something a little bit lighter,” said Saugus senior Trent Burke. “Like, it’s just a game with a stick and a ball and it’s really, really helpful for us to just be away with our team. Just kind of isolated, doing the thing you really love to do together.”
The arrival of Hartzell, who plays for Atlas Lacrosse Club, and Walters, who plays for Redwoods Lacrosse Club, was another huge step in the healing process.
“Right after the incident, you’re getting all kinds of support from all different kinds of people,” said Centurions senior Nathan Miller.
“To see the PLL look out for their players because, you know, we’re not directly connected, but it shows that they care about the sport enough to where they’re willing to come out and just show the support and it kind of emphasizes that community that lacrosse creates.”
The two pros opened the clinic with a brief talk, then split the team into offense and defense and got down to drills and stick work. Each player received individual attention during the drills as well as after when there was opportunity for one-on-one conversation and autographs.
Although Saugus is only in its second season of fielding a varsity lacrosse team, Walters said he was impressed with the progress the Centurions have made in a short amount of time.
“You would’ve thought this program was around for 10 years,” he said. “That’s a credit to the coach and the staff and the parents that are involved there. You know that something happened because we watched the news and we’re aware of what had happened, but you never would’ve known what had happened. They had great leadership that helped them along early.”
The Saugus lacrosse players matured quickly after living through the events that took place at their school. The team is also closer and more focused as a result.
“I think our biggest goal this season is just to end up winning league and hopefully go on to playoffs,” Miller said. “I think the shooting was just a hiccup and I think we’re going to continue working hard and practicing because we all know what our end goal is.”