Last summer a group of boys raised $34,000 playing lacrosse to fulfill the wish of a trip to Disney World for an 8-year-old girl suffering from leukemia. The team's coach, Bill Giugno of Monroe, named his team Make-A-Wish.
"The kids are nine and 10 years old," Giugno said. "I wanted my son to learn something more than just playing lacrosse — he's 10. He got to play lacross all summer and he got to help sick children."
Giugno, one of the founders of Monroe's lacrosse league, coaches a U11 boys team. Last summer, he decided to get a collection of kids from surrounding towns together to raise money for charity.
"I thought Make-A-Wish would be perfect," he said. "It's amazing how many people are touched by that foundation. The model became 'For Kids By Kids.'"
The players on the team were from Monroe, Shelton, Newtown, Stratford, Norwalk, New Canaan and Fairfield. Of the 21 players, seven were from Monroe. The team's story was recently featured in the October edition of Lacrosse Magazine.
Late in the season, the girl sent a letter to the team to thank them.
"Everybody was blown away," Giugno recalled. "The boys are 10, I don't know if they understand the scope of things, but parents were there and there wasn't a dry eye in the room."
Mickey Mouse originally visited the girl at the hospital, because she was too sick to go, but the boy's donation allowed her and her family to go to Disney later.
'This Thing Snowballed'
Giugno visited the Make-A-Wish website and found that the local chapter is in Trumbull. The woman he contacted there was Kim Smith and it turns out that he used to coach her son, Hunter.
Giugno created a team page, "Lacrosse For Wishes," which monitored money raised by his son Zachary and the other boys on their individual player pages.
"Our team goal was to raise $8,500," Giugno said. "That is the average cost of a wish — and it just exploded. These kids are going to be pioneers in changing the sport."
Youth Lacrosse U11 tournaments are held throughout the country. People form teams and enter them into various tournaments with an entry fee of between $1,500 to $2,000.
Giugno said league directors were so touched by what his Make-A-Wish team was going that three of them allowed them to play for no charge for tournaments at Wesley University, Yale and for The Patriot Games in Penn.
News of the Make-A-Wish team was traveling fast. Kim Smith told Giugno that Andrew Nitirouth, a student from Hopkins school in New Haven, was writing a thesis on his team.
"He called me," Giugno said. "It turns out he played lacrosse before and was still battling leukemia. He won a national student athlete in lacrosse award and was going to be a freshmen at Tufts University in the fall.
"He coached our team and one of his friends helped. He is a Make-A-Wish kid. He wrote our mission statement on our team web page and about his battle and what he went through."
'You Guys Are Winners'
"Everybody at the tournament was talking about the Make-A-Wish team, 'It's great what you're doing,'" Giugno said.
But the boys were frustrated at losing game after game on the field.
Giugno said an opposing coach saw how down the players looked and said to them, "How could you guys possibly be upset? You raised $34,000. You guys are winners."
Giugno said that coach allowed his assistant to coach his game, while he rooted for the Make-A-Wish team. "I thought it was more important for me to watch your kids' game," he told Giugno.
"I guaranteed a win in the last game," Giugno said. "Joey Keegan of Monroe asked if he could talk to the team. They came out hooting and hollering and we won."
Zachary Giugno, Monroe
Jackson Lynch, Monroe
Jordan Beckett, Monroe
Griffin Elliott, Monroe
Chris Tillotson, Monroe
Aiden Donnelly, Monroe
Joey Keegan, Monroe
Blake Epstein, Wakeman
Chris Gonzalez, Wakeman
Griffin Broad, Shelton
Jonathan Clarke, Shelton
Matt Stevenson, Shelton
Casey Brennan, Shelton
Kyle Burbank, Newtown
Brendan Hall, Newtown
Mike Mulligan, Stratford
Ryan Brault, Stratford
Sebastian Tchkotoua, Norwalk
John Gatt, Norwalk
Ian Campbell, Norwalk
Hayden Critchell, New Canaan