When Brendan Kelly bought the Bayhawks professional lacrosse franchise and moved it to Annapolis he vowed to make it an integral part of the community.
Those were not idle words on behalf of Kelly, an Anne Arundel County native and longtime Annapolis-based business owner. The Chesapeake Bayhawks have been giving back to community on a consistent basis ever since relocating to Annapolis in 2010.
“From the outset, the mindset was that if we’re going to work and play in this community we’re going to be a big contributor to the betterment of the community,” Kelly said. “This is the only professional sports franchise in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and we are determined to make a difference.”
Under Kelly’s leadership, the Bayhawks have been involved with a wide range of charitable causes and outreach initiatives over the past decade. Chesapeake has partnered with the Anne Arundel Medical Center on two major fundraisers, serving as a major donor for the “Denim & Diamonds” gala and title sponsor for the “Fish for a Cure” program.
“We are grateful to Brendan Kelly for the partnership we have developed with the Bayhawks as they are now one of our largest corporate sponsors for areas of care such as orthopedics, oncology, mental health and addition treatment and recovery,” said Jan W. Wood, president and chief development officer of the Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation. “The Bayhawks walk the walk of being a local team making a difference in their own community.”
About a dozen members of the organization volunteered to assist the Anne Arundel County Food Bank with its furniture sale fundraiser with Bayhawks players literally doing the heavy lifting of moving couches, tables and chairs for display.
Chesapeake has been a title sponsor of the St. Patrick’s Day Hooley that supports Warrior Events and annually conducts a Hometown Hero and Military Appreciation Night in conjunction with the home game held nearest to the Fourth of July holiday.
In 2017, the Bayhawks donated 18,000 tickets to Anne Arundel County public schools students and another 3,000 tickets to all participants in the Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Department summer program.
For seven straight years, the Bayhawks conducted a holiday event called “Ham it Up,” partnering with McGarvey’s Saloon to donate 150 hams to needy people in the Annapolis area. Last Christmas, Chesapeake transitioned to holding a “Royal Holiday” party at Federal House in downtown Annapolis, partnering with Crown Royal to stuff bags full of holiday gifts and treats that were sent to active duty military personnel stationed overseas.
“I’ve made it very clear to everyone in the organization that I believe it’s important and vital for the Bayhawks to be heavily involved with the community,” Kelly said. “We are asking the greater Annapolis community to support the team and we want to return the favor. Our coaches and players have embraced that philosophy from day one.”
Truth be told, Kelly has a hard time saying no to any community outreach endeavor, which is why the Bayhawks will be participating in the 21st annual “Slaughter Across the Water” tug of war contest between Annapolis and Eastport. Kelly has been brainstorming a way in which the Bayhawks can connect with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
“We’re willing to take on any community challenges that are out there,” Kelly said.
HONORARY TEAM CAPTAINS
Zach Brown suffered a pair of strokes at the age of 10, the result of a lesion on his brain that bled twice. The Mayo resident had been a three-sport athlete (football, wrestling, lacrosse) with South River Youth Athletics, but was suddenly debilitated.
Brown was relearning how to walk and perform fine motor skills at National Rehabilitation Hospital in D.C. when his family first heard from the Chesapeake Bayhawks, who reached out after Kelly had been apprised of the situation by a mutual friend.
“The Bayhawks sent Zach an autographed jersey and a note that said “we would love to meet you one day” and it was signed one athlete to another,” Tracy Brown recalled.
When Zach returned home after undergoing weeks of rehab, the Bayhawks made contact again and set up a visit. General manager Dave Cottle, former head coach Brian Reese and standout players Mike Evans and Michael Kimmel showed up at the family home one day.
“They wound up staying for several hours. Mike Evans was playing video games with Zach and we ordered pizza for everyone,” Tracy Brown said. “Zach exchanged cell phone numbers with the players and suddenly had two new best friends.”
Cottle and Reese named Brown an honorary team captain and brought him into the locker room before and after games. The youngster often watched games from the home sideline and basically became the biggest Bayhawks fan on the planet.
“Zach went from playing sports year-round to not being able to play at all anymore,” Tracy said. “Being part of the Bayhawks gave Zach a sense of belonging. He was part of a team again and had that friendship and camaraderie that goes along with it.”
Brown, who is now 17 years old and will be a senior at South River High in the fall, remains faithful to the Bayhawks and attends as many games as possible each season.
“Brendan Kelly has been so awesome and gives our family as many tickets as we need,” Tracy Brown said. “We have so many good memories of being with the kids on summer nights at the Bayhawks games.”
Chesapeake has always supported the Zach Brown 5K for Angioma Alliance and surprised the family with a $5,000 donation last year.
More recently, the Bayhawks found another honorary team captain to wrap their arms around. Davidsonville resident Ella Edwards was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or soft tissue.
Edwards is the niece of Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis general manager Paul LaRochelle, a longtime Bayhawks season ticket holder. One call from LaRochelle and the Bayhawks were all-in for helping Edwards, creating an “Ella Strong” campaign that swept the region.
Bayhawks players wore Ella Strong T-shirts during warmups and she became a regular fixture on the sideline for games. Evans and midfielder Mark Glicini took the lead with regard to supporting Edwards, who has been undergoing treatment for the cancer for years now.
Evans, a Davidsonville native and South River High graduate, considers both Brown and Edwards a part of his extended family. Evans, who retired from Major League Lacrosse prior to this season, takes Brown to Rita’s Italian Ice whenever he gets home.
“Zach has been such an incredible warrior and fighter while batting through some real tough times. He was a major inspiration for me when I was playing,” said Evans, who retired from Major League Lacrosse prior to this season. “Zach is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”
Likewise, Evans stays in close touch with Edwards and her family, keeping tabs on the youngster’s progress.
“Ella is such an amazing person who always has a beautiful smile on her face no matter what the circumstance,” Evans said. “We all fell in love with Ella and her family. Her courage and determination are beyond amazing.”
SCOOPERS AND FIRST RESPONDERS
This year marked the debut of a new outreach program in which Bayhawks partnered with the Annapolis Youth Lacrosse Association to operate an instructional program for beginner players. Over the span of eight weekends, a large contingent of Bayhawks players and coaches directed the “Scoopers” program while providing a free lacrosse stick to every participant.
Veteran AYLA head coach Francis McAndrews worked with Cottle to develop the curriculum, which was based on skill development, player-coach interaction and fostering a fun experience.
“Our partnership with the Bayhawks on the Scoopers program played an important role in the organization’s success on and off the field this season,” McAndrews said. “I thought the energy the Bayhawks players brought to each of our sessions was contagious and raised the level of coaching and playing by everyone.”
A few years ago, Kelly came up with the idea of having first responders play a charity lacrosse game as part of the “Hometown Hero and Military Appreciation Night” event. Michael “Doc” Linynsky, Battalion Chief for the Prince George’s County Fire Department, took the lead on organizing the contest.
Police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians from more than a dozen different jurisdictions participated in the second “First Responders” game, which was held on July 2 prior to when the Bayhawks hosted the Boston Cannons.
Linynsky said the Bayhawks provided uniforms both teams, free admision to all players and family members, food and drink along with on-field access for the post-game fireworks and country music concert. All proceeds from the First Responders game go to Warrior Events, an Annapolis-based non-profit dedicated to enriching the lives of wounded service members.
“What the Bayhawks have done is combine a love of lacrosse, public safety pride and philanthropy into an annual charity event,” Linynsky said. “We are just thrilled to be a part of helping the Bayhawks give back to the community and honor our nation’s military. I have worked with many organizations over the course of my career and have to say the Bayhawks put community and giving back higher than any of them.”