As the different colors filled the sky, you could almost picture the little face of Harlyn Radley smiling at the gift she was getting as the members of the Lakeview and Harper Creek lacrosse teams released balloons prior to playing a game in her honor.
For a sport that doesn’t get a lot of attention in this area, with just a handful of teams competing, lacrosse is making the biggest splash of the early spring high school sports season with an event that reached beyond the white lines on the field.
The Lakeview and Harper Creek lacrosse teams joined forces to raise money and offer support for the family of Harlyn Radley, a 6-year-old girl from East Leroy who was killed in a car crash in February.
In an effort to honor the life of the former Sonoma Elementary student, the Spartans and Beavers switched their regularly scheduled varsity lacrosse match on Tuesday into a benefit game at Spartan Memorial Stadium in the memory of Radley, with all funds from ticket sales and other fundraising efforts going to the family.
“This was a great opportunity for our lacrosse program to show support and compassion for others. So often people think athletes are just worried about their sport. This shows that our lacrosse athletes are about more than that,” said Chris Gillette, president of the Lakeview lacrosse program.
Both growing lacrosse programs see the other as a main rival as Harper Creek and Lakeview do in most sports. But there they were, players clad in purple and in blue forming a line down the side of the field, each with a balloon in hand. And following a moment of silence for Radley, the two rivals were seen as one as they released those balloons to the sky in a unifying effort to help something beyond their own two schools.
“I think it’s great to put the rivalry aside and come together for a good cause and to do whatever we can for the family. We still wanted to come out and play and be competitive, but still know what we are playing for,” Lakeview coach Austin Mader said. “And this has been great. There’s great support tonight for Harlyn, the family and the lacrosse community. There’s more people here tonight than I’ve ever seen at high school lacrosse game around here. I know the boys were excited.”
With Radley coming from a Harper Creek elementary school, the two programs were very much on the same page when it came to putting the event together.
“We are rivals, but this is about more than two rival schoo
ls,” Gillette said. “We wanted to do something for Harlyn and the family and got in contact with Harper Creek about this idea and they were excited to join us in doing this.
“Harper Creek has had to deal with a lot of tragedy in recent months and we just thought it was the right thing to do to help out with this.”
Beyond ticket sales, there was a 50-50 drawing with money going to the family, balloons from both teams that were released in her honor and special seats set aside for the family. There was also a special pink sticker with the initials ‘HR’ on the helmets of the lacrosse players that will be worn in her honor for the rest of the season.
“After coming up with the idea for this I had to go to our lacrosse group and talk to them about it. Most of the funding we get for lacrosse here comes from our ticket sales from games like this, so it was a big ask to be able to do this and give the gate to the family. But they were all for it,” Gillette said.
Still grieving, it was understandable that the family wasn’t asked to talk too much about their departed loved one. And the funds for the family were quietly donated by the lacrosse programs after the third quarter, with no announcement of how much. After all, the night wasn’t really about dollars, but more about how two communities could come together and about the memory of a little girl taken away from those communities too soon.
“We got in contact with the family and it’s been very emotional for everyone since we told them what we wanted to do,” said Gillette. “At times there were tears as we thought about Harlyn. But there’s been tears of joy also, because I think what’s happening here is a good thing. Maybe it’s a bit of closure, and it’s a way for them to know people do care, people won’t forget about Harlyn.
“We will forever keep her in our hearts. She’s now a guardian angel looking down.”
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick