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At Shootout for Soldiers, players sacrifice sleep for those who've sacrificed much more

Shootout for Soldiers, a 24-hour lacrosse event, has raised more than $500,000 since 2012.

Many people, including 150 volunteers, stayed awake to participate in and help run the 24-hour Shootout for Soldiers lacrosse event at McDonogh in Owings Mills. But only two played in all 24 games.

Chris McGovern, a 47-year-old insurance underwriter from Jacksonville, and Michelle Railey, a 47-year-old mother of three, played in every game. Both played about five to 10 minutes in the youth and college games but received more time in games involving older players.

McGovern and Railey, who asked family, friends and clients to pledge donations for every hour they played, helped raise more than $65,000 for the event.

"I've been a huge supporter of the military," he said Thursday morning, just before entering the 7 a.m. youth girls game. "If I can give up 24 hours of my life, it's an easy decision. In my mind, there's no better cause than supporting people who defend our freedoms."

McGovern's sentiment was a familiar refrain among the participants at Shootout for Soldiers, which was begun by a group of high school students attending Boys' Latin. The event has raised more than $500,000 since its start in 2012 and is committed to using lacrosse to help provide financial, physical and emotional support to American soldiers.

Tyler Steinhardt, the event's founder and director, said there are three goals. One is to enhance awareness of the challenges veterans face after serving overseas. Steinhardt cited a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study that said an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and that rates of unemployment and homelessness are high among former military members. The second purpose is to engage others to assist veterans. And the third mission is to raise money to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, the Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund, the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Semper Fi Foundation and Team RWB.

Steinhardt said this year's event raised $201,300.

"It's overwhelmingly positive," said Steinhardt, who has watched the event grow from 1,000 participants and two tents in 2012 to 1,600 participants and 16,000 in attendance this year. "… The first two hours, there were 5,000 people here, and they're not exactly watching great lacrosse. It's because the atmosphere is fun, people feel like they're doing stuff — we have fun, games and activities."

While Shootout for Soldiers drew the largest number of fans for the opening ceremony at 7 p.m. Wednesday and expected a similar turnout for the finale involving current college players at 6 p.m. Thursday, the overnight crowd was likely the hardiest group.

Becky Crafton of York, Pa., endured rain and fatigue to watch her husband, Lance, play in the 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. games Thursday. Wearing a windbreaker and huddled under a black umbrella, Crafton said she and her husband plan to go to Shootout for Soldiers events on Long Island, N.Y., on July 16 and 17; and at Dana Point, Calif., on July 31 and Aug. 1.

"We'd love to go to all of them," she said. "It's a great cause. It's very exciting."

Lance Crafton, who played high school lacrosse at Loch Raven and collegiately at Towson, was a sergeant in the Marines. He was medically retired in 2013 after being injured three times in incidents involving improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

Crafton, who requires injections to prevent seizures and migraines, and undergoes therapy three times per month for an injured back, said he considers himself lucky after visiting friends who have been fitted with prosthetic limbs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.

"I felt guilty that I made it through while they have to endure it for life," said Crafton, who played in five games. "I count my blessings every day."

Ashton Nuzum, 10, and Ayden Willingham, 12, watched their fathers, Brandon Nuzum and Victor Willingham, play in the 5 a.m. 35-and-over game, and they said they didn't mind leaving the warmth of their beds.

"I'd rather be here because it gives me something to do and I like to watch lacrosse," said Ashton, who was accompanied by his cousin, Jared Dingus, and still had to go to school near his parents' home in Woodbridge, Va. "School is boring. I'd rather hang out with my cousin or my dad."

A pair of Major League Lacrosse players served as coaches for the 6 a.m. youth boys game. Chesapeake Bayhawks short-stick defensive midfielder Dan Burns and Florida Launch faceoff specialist Chris Mattes were asked to help by Shootout for Soldiers volunteer and Johns Hopkins strength coach Jay Dyer.

"Anyone knows someone who is in the military or has a friend or family member," said Burns, a Severna Park and Maryland graduate whose grandfather graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Navy. "These guys in seventh grade are waking up and getting out here and playing lacrosse. So there's no reason why I can't get out."

Towson coach Shawn Nadelen, a former Johns Hopkins defenseman, coached the veterans game that opened the 24-hour event and played for three consecutive hours Thursday morning. Nadelen, the father of two children under the age of 4, said he might be fighting off sleep by noon.

"But for something like this, for the men and women who have sacrificed so much more, I have no problem losing a few hours in the middle of the night," he said. "I'm kind of used to it, being a young father. It's such an awesome event."

Which makes what McGovern was doing eye-opening.

McGovern, who hadn't slept since waking up Wednesday at 6:30 a.m., conceded that playing in the overnight games was the toughest part.

"You're at work the whole day, and your body is ready to go to sleep," he said Thursday morning. "Now my body is up and ready to go."

McGovern, who fueled his body with water, Gatorade and energy bars, spent much of his down time stretching and using a roller on his hamstrings, which balked at the strenuous activity.

McGovern was certain about his plans for after the event.

"I'll immediately take a shower and hit the sack," he said. "I don't think I'm going to work tomorrow."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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