The Roland Park Country School varsity lacrosse team has overcome slow starts before to finish with a major victory.
On Tuesday, March 20 at the William S. Baer School — a public school that serves children with multiple disabilities — in northwest Baltimore, the Reds once again rallied for a big win.
Yet there was no scoreboard to show the outcome of the first "Baer-athlon," other than the smiling faces of the youngsters while each Red player, or "wingman," was paired with a child who made his or her rounds through a variety of stations.
After a formal warmup session directed by Lynne Brick, of Brick Bodies, revved up the crowd, the participants were eager to navigate a course that included a walking or running a lap around the school, biking a lap using adaptive equipment and then completing a "dip" in a baby pool or sprinkler.
Considering that 19 of the 20 Roland Park team members posted for the event, coach Kristin Nicolini had to feel good about her squad's depth — and compassion for children with special needs.
"It took about 10-15 minutes for our girls to warm up," said Nicolini, who, with her sister and co-coach Reagan Raneri, led the Reds to the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title game last spring. "And then you could see smiles on their faces all day."
Five students from Maryvale Preparatory School also were also on hand to help, and students from St. Paul's and Bryn Mawr have previously aided the Baer kids at different points of the school year.
Baer School students face a variety of conditions and challenges, such as Down Syndrome, spina bifida, autism and cerebral palsy or suffer from repercussions from trauma-related injuries, such as gunshots wounds or severe burns.
"You name it, they throw it at us," said Graham Kastendike, a Cockeysville insurance executive who serves as the president of the Baer Partnership Board. "The resources given to us by the city simply aren't enough, so we have to have help. We can't do it alone."
Some of that help comes from Athletes Serving Athletes, a Lutherville-based nonprofit organization geared toward working events like the "Baer-athlon."
"We want these kids to have the same experience that other kids have," said Cockeysville resident Dave Slomkowski, ASA executive director and a former Washington College lacrosse goalie. "They deserve that much."
The event was beneficial for the older and younger students alike.
"It's eye-opening to be exposed to these children and see how their lives are," said Roland Park senior midfielder Audrey Todd, who is headed to Harvard in the fall. "The kids really opened up to us."
Armaugh Village resident Jenna Reifler, a senior attacker for the Reds who will attend Johns Hopkins, and laughed as she recounted how one of the kids "said his brother's name is (after the rap artist) Lil' Wayne.
"We were all apprehensive at first, and the kids were shy, too. But it was just such a rewarding experience. It's awesome to be involved with an organization like the ASA."
Maryvale senior Jackie Moritz, who runs on the Lions' cross country and track teams, had a special reason — her dad — for being there.
ASA board chairman Steve Moritz said he was almost wheelchair-bound after developing multiple sclerosis and is now virtually symptom-free.
"I have a special empathy for these kids' inability to participate in athletics, because of my MS," the Parkton resident said. "I want the whole world to know about ASA. We love helping these kids."