Lacrosse has a heart. That is the message that is being brought to the ILA at the second annual Wounded Warriors Canada Jr. Lacrosse Tournament.
The event has a two-fold purpose. The first and most important, of course, is the funds raised at this and many other similar events, to raise both awareness and funds to help former service men and women who have returned from conflicts with wounds, invisible to the eye, but every bit as devastating as a physical injury.
Former Mimico Jr. A lacrosse star, Todd Stewart, hatched the idea, which he brought to the Wounded Warriors (a non-profit that supports ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, vets, and their families) last year. He wanted to blend a pre-season, Jr. A lacrosse tournament with the work of the WWC.
When asked why, Stewart had no real answer. It was just his inert sense of pride in those soldiers who have risked their lives on both foreign soil and here at home, and a desire to help Canada’s wounded heroes transition back to civilian life.
“It’s good to see the dual purpose of this tournament, between lacrosse and a great cause,” Stewart says.
National Program Director for Wounded Warriors Canada, Phil Ralph, was on hand for the opening face-off and to help Stewart with the logistics of running a tournament like this.
“Todd (Stewart) and his family have put a lot of time and effort into doing this event” acknowledges Ralph, “It’s events like this — hockey tournaments, golf tournaments, lacrosse, motor cycle rides, and all kinds of third party events right across this country big and small — that make the work of Wounded Warriors Canada possible.”
The Wounded Warriors Tournament was one of the events on that list and was greatly appreciated by Ralph on behalf of the organization.
“This year, due to the generosity of several Canadian companies and events such as this, we have been able to provide $1.4 million in direct programming to benefit Canadian War vets and their families,” says Ralph.
Wounded Warriors of Canada exists so that veterans of the Canadian Forces who have returned with serious psychological damage, reconnect themselves to civilian life.
Between 90–95 per cent of this programming is directed towards those who are suffering with Post Traumatic Stress and Operational Stress injuries and other mental health injuries.
Ralph explains that unlike a physical injury, a mental injury can appear in a hundred different ways, triggered by a hundred different things.
“A returning vet can be hyper-vigilant (to the point of paranoid), they are agitated easily, and it makes it very difficult for everyone in the family dynamic.” he says. “It’s very hard on families as well, walking around on egg shells.
“This year we have added a new program called COPE, which is directed towards couples who deal with PTSD every day,” says Ralph.
The programs are tailored to the needs of the individual and includes everything from getting homeless veterans off the streets, to the veteran’s transition program (which involves individual counseling), to providing PTSD service dogs, which are a type of psychiatric service dog. They also use horses as a rehabilitation tool and have a centre specifically for that.
The tournament itself, although exhibition, is also very important to the participating teams as the 2016 summer lacrosse season approaches.
The six participating teams in this year’s Wounded Warriors Tournament include Mimico, St. Catharines, Six Nations Arrows, Burlington, Barrie, and Orangeville.
All are OLA Jr. A franchises which use the tournament for an early look at what their teams have and will need when the 2016 season begins, while at the same time scouting for possible trades.
Most of the teams have invited some Jr. B and Midget players they have their eye on, according to Stewart.
“Six Nations is always good house. Excellent facilities, the employees here are awesome,” says Stewart. “We definitely want to continue being here.”