HAMPTON ——Mike Crawford will be everywhere on Saturday.
Crawford was the driving force behind the founding of Hampton University's club lacrosse team, which began play this season and will celebrate Lacrosse Day, a four-team tournament at Armstrong Stadium, on Saturday.
After falling in love with the sport as a teenager, Crawford wanted to bring it to his college. He drew up a proposal and began enlisting fellow enthusiasts.
Crawford died in December 2010, a semester before his scheduled graduation and a year and a half before his dream became reality. But his presence will loom large as Hampton, Morgan State, Morehouse and alumni from St. Thomas More, Crawford's prep alma mater, take the field to play the game he loved.
"He probably wouldn't even believe that this has all happened," said Verina Mathis-Crawford, Mike's mother.
Mathis-Crawford took up her son's mission after his death from complications caused by an enlarged heart. In doing so, she came to share his passion for a centuries-old game rooted in Native American culture and sometimes called "The Creator's Game," played to bring honor to the spirit of the tribes and their surroundings.
"The sport is bigger than any one person," Mathis-Crawford said. "You're playing for something bigger than yourself."
That's a feeling the Hampton lacrosse players expect to understand on Saturday.
"It's definitely going to be a very emotional day," said HU junior and lacrosse club president Kevin Bennett. "Hearts are going to be heavy. The thought of Mike not being able to be here as we do this, even though he's still with us … it's definitely going to be a very emotional day, but I'm really excited for it."
Bennett, who played lacrosse for four years at Woodlawn High in Baltimore, Md., saw a flier on campus and attended an interest meeting at HU in March of 2011. He was one of 50-plus people in the room — a group that included Mike's parents, who were overwhelmed by the response.
"We were tapping a level of interest there," Mathis-Crawford said. "We just really nurtured that and helped move it forward."
Lacrosse helped Mike's family move forward, too.
Taking up her son's cause
Mike Crawford came home for Christmas for the last time on Dec. 18, 2010.
Riding home to Brooklyn, N.Y., with his parents after they picked him up at the airport, Mike, a sports management major, told them about an internship he'd just landed and updated them on the progress of his lacrosse proposal.
Ten days later, he died at his parents' home. He was 21.
"The only thing we were told by the medical examiner … was that Mike had an enlarged heart," Mathis-Crawford said. "How it became enlarged or diseased over the years, we'll never know. But Mike left us very quickly and very suddenly. He probably didn't know what happened. He died here in his room."
Even in her grief, his mother couldn't stop thinking about lacrosse.
"It was one of the last things that Mike and I had discussed," she said. "I began to try and pick myself up to see where I could move something forward that really was one of the last things Mike and I had talked about."