DANA POINT, Calif. – Carey Mangold turned 68 in May. Scars decorate his body from his time serving in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and decades of playing and coaching competitive lacrosse. The absolute last place he should be on this warm August night is at Dana Hills High School, manning the goal in full pads and barking orders at men, 20 to 50 years younger than him.
But, despite his wife’s objections, he had to be here. Because this is no ordinary pick-up lacrosse game. It’s the opening game of the California stop of Shootout for Soldiers, a summer-long, cross-country series of 24-hour lacrosse games that raises money for veterans.
Since Tyler Steinhardt and his group of friends started Shootout for Soliders five years ago as high school students at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore, they’ve raised over $1 million for Team Red White & Blue, Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund, Semper Fi Fund and the Gary Sinise Foundation.
There’s no history of military service in Steinhardt’s family, as far as he knows. He and his friends, all lacrosse players, simply felt like they needed to find a way to honor veterans and those currently serving.
“For us, we wanted to give back to those who serve our country because we were lacrosse players, high school kids,” Steinhardt said. “We could do whatever we want in our lives because people are out there fighting for us.”
The best way to do that, Steinhardt and his friends decided, was to use the sport they loved, lacrosse, as a fundraising platform. The idea for a 24-hour event came from the group’s desire to break a world record.
Since that first event five years ago, held at Boys’ Latin and organized by a group of high schoolers, Shootout for Soldiers has expanded to eight locations across the country. This year, Steinhardt and a group of nine other staffers spent the summer traveling in an RV from Boston to Baltimore to Atlanta to Houston to Columbus, Ohio, to Long Island, New York, to Colorado and, finally, to California.
At each event, a local organizing team helps with registering teams (each of which must raise at least $750) for the 24 hour-long time-slots and providing volunteers for on-the-ground assistance. At Dana Hills, games featured local high school, club and youth teams, a veteran’s game and a father-son game.
“Every single event has its own local flare,” Steinhardt said. “In California, it’s much more relaxed. In Ohio, they have live music. In Long Island, it’s just this massive production. It’s pretty cool to see the different flavors at each event.”
Through the games, service members and veterans get to connect with their local communities and also each other. Where else can a Vietnam veteran like Mangold share a field with a current Marine Corps lance corporal and a high school student whose “all-time goal” is to play lacrosse at Army?
“Just the sport itself, I think, is a great sport to get people together and even better for this cause,” said 22-year Navy veteran Scott Cunningham, who played in the veteran and father-son games and coached two more. “It’s just so much fun. I appreciate it.”
Through team fundraising, merchandise sales and on-site donations, the California event raised just over $34,000 for the organization’s four sponsored charities. Steinhardt said much of the credit for Shootout for Soldiers’ success goes not to him and his team, but the lacrosse community itself.
“I don’t think we ever thought it would get this big,” he said. “It’s really because I think there’s a patriotic fervor in this sport of the lacrosse. The lacrosse community is incredibly patriotic and they want to give back and this is just a means to do that.
“We came up with the idea, but the lacrosse community has run with it. It’s not like we have been driving it, it’s the thousands of people over the last five years that have made this happen.”
After years of fostering that giving spirit, Steinhardt and the Shootout for Soldiers team recently found themselves on the receiving end. While driving from Colorado to California, the group’s RV burst into flames on a Utah highway. Everyone made it out OK, but clothes, laptops, cameras, personal belongings and Steinhardt’s prized Nintendo 64 all went up in smoke.
After word of the incident got around, an online fundraising campaign created for the group raised $35,000 in less than two days. Steinhardt arrived at his hotel room to find piles of new clothes delivered by Under Armour, one of the organization’s sponsors.
— ShootoutforSoldiers (@SFSLacrosse) August 6, 2016
“We just thought we had a burned down RV and we were screwed,” Steinhardt said. “I didn’t cry at the RV, but I cried when I saw the amount of support that we got.”
Still, the loss of the RV clouded the future, at least a bit, for Steinhardt. At the end of the summer, Steinhardt had planned to live in the motor vehicle while he figured out the next phase of his life. Steinhardt does know, though, that he will be working on Shootout for Soldiers full-time, which he anticipates will have a “gargantuan” impact on the organization’s future.
“Where this is right now, we can have multiple fields in dozens of cities in the future, but for now we’re taking it step-by-step” Steinhardt said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in five years, but we can continue to build with what we have. A lot of times, we’re just pushed by the lacrosse community. We’re lucky to have that.”
And if the event returns to Dana Hills? You bet Mangold will be there at age 69.
“I told them, I’ll play again, but you better come back,” he said.