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A lot of teams from youth sports to the pros wear the American flag on their uniform.

But how many athletes inside those uniforms take the time to understand why they are wearing their
flag in the first place.

They don’t always think about the military people who pay the price, some the ultimate price, so that we can enjoy the freedom and advantages that come with living in the United States.
The Sacred Heart lacrosse team gets it.

On Friday, April 21, the Sharks lacrosse team will be hosting a Shootout for Soldiers event at their home field located at 300 Smallwood Drive in Buffalo.

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Running from 3:30-5:30, the event will feature the girls from the lacrosse team demonstrating and teaching lax skills to a group of veterans. It marks the second time Sacred Heart has done this event this season, with the first happening this past fall with the Sharks field hockey team.

“I think the biggest lesson that I’m trying to teach them is that our freedom isn’t free,” said Sharks lax and field hockey coach Linda Groff, who organized both games.

“It comes at a cost and a lot of these veterans that come have lost friends in war time. Sending their friends home in a pine-box covered with an American flag is the most gut-wrenching pain that anyone can feel. They (the girls) need to understand that because they can go to a private school, play sports and live in the United States their freedom comes at a cost.”

Lacrosse team members Tori Sippel and Kayla Blas, who were both part of the field hockey team’s Shootout for Soldiers. They got the message Groff was delivering.

“We taught them how to play field hockey. We played with them for a while,” Blas said. “The afterwards we had a nice pizza party. It was nice to meet veterans and hear a little bit about them and learn a lot about them. It was fun.”

Hosting an all male team of veterans, the experience of playing field hockey was an eye-opener for the veterans who had never played the sport before. But most of all it was about carefree fun.

“Field hockey was interesting because you have a stick that is right handed. So if they’re not right handed. A lot of them were having an issue with it,” Groff said with a smile. “They would use the back of the stick and I’d be like nope! Our ball! Some of them are hockey players. Ryan Butterworth-or “Butters” as he is known. Was ripping the ball up and down the field and he had a blast. It was just really nice to get my friends out there and introduce them to the field hockey team. And let the field hockey team interact with them.”

The girls had just as much fun and can’t wait to teach the vets lacrosse.

“I’m really excited. I had a blast doing it for field hockey,” Sippel said. “I’m really excited. I’ve been looking forward to it all season.”

Groff, a passionate supporter of the military, spoke of how after 9/11 she was ready to join the service-but was unable to go through with it.

“I had the papers ready to go and I did not have the guts to sign and enlist,” Groff said. “So I do what I can to give back to the veteran community.”

A passionate supporter of veterans services, Groff is involved with multiple groups that aid veterans, like the K.I.A. Memorial Rough March and Dog Tags, which takes rescue dogs and places them in homes of veterans as companion/service dogs.

Coming from a military family, Groff knows well what veterans endure. As a coach, for Groff it’s important to be a teacher of life to her players. In this case, she also feels it’s very vital that the girls understand the full spectrum of what veterans-especially combat veterans-go through. How even after they come home the past is never fully behind them as every day can be a struggle dealing with PSTD or survivors guilt.

“Some of the girls had never even heard of survivors guilt before,” Groff said, as she explained how eye-opening the field hockey event was for her girls. And how she is hoping the lax game will have an equally powerful impact.

Hosting vets who ranged in age from mid 20s to mid 30s, the Sharks field hockey team gave the soldiers an afternoon where they could just enjoy some carefree fun. Something that the lax team is hoping to provide with this day.

“It made me really appreciate what they do,” Tori Sippel said. “It was very interesting. I didn’t really ask them much about their stories because some of them don’t like to talk about it, but just being around them was very educational and inspiring.”

The field hockey team went through their normal warm ups then, after a quick tutorial about the game to the vets, they broke up into teams mixed.

“Just like how Tori said, it was very inspiring to meet the people that actually do allow me to live the free life that we all live today,” Blas said.

“It made me realize more how grateful I am for them to serve and do what they do. I can’t say anything else except that I’m very thankful for what they do.”