Never mind that they only had four returning players and finished with a losing record. When members of the Patterson High School lacrosse team talk about their difficult spring, it always comes back to the midseason death of their captain, senior Christopher Clarke.
Clarke was fatally shot after practice March 13, an innocent bystander in a street shooting near his home in the Belair-Edison neighborhood.
Patterson Principal Laura Lee D'Anna, lacrosse coach Jonathan Kehl and three of Clarke's former teammates remembered him yesterday as they accepted dozens of new and barely-used lacrosse sticks and pieces of protective gear donated to the school by AT&T.;
"This is just such a catharsis after coming off of the grief we suffered," D'Anna said. "This means so much to them. It's a new beginning."
The communications corporation collected public donations during the NCAA lacrosse championship, held at M&T; Bank Stadium over Memorial Day weekend. The company, which sponsored the championship, also threw in its own equipment, which had been used only for exhibitions and demonstrations during the tournament.
The equipment donated to Patterson was worth more than $5,000, company representatives said.
AT&T; officials first decided to donate the equipment without a specific recipient in mind, said spokeswoman Alexa Kaufman. A contact at ESPN suggested the school, she said.
"They've had a rough year, and it's a relatively new program," she said. "We thought a city high school would be a perfect fit."
The players present yesterday seemed to agree. At the edge of the game field, ignoring sprinklings of rain, they rummaged excitedly through a company van filled with bags of sticks, pads, gloves and helmets.
Goalie Michael Collins, a 17-year-old rising senior, took hold of a stick before the equipment was officially presented to the team and rarely let his hands leave the shiny metal.
"It's really, really light, so I can handle it really well," he said. "Compared to last year, they were heavy, old, probably used for many a year."
The team had enough equipment last season for practices and games, but players did not have their own gear to take home, Kehl said.
"When the kids see this equipment, it's like a ray of light to them," the coach said as his players tossed a ball around using the new sticks.
One of the players, 17-year-old Deontae Hall, just graduated. The equipment won't be his to play with next season, but that won't stop the midfielder from feeling its rewards - he plans to help coach the team.
Last season, there was barely enough gear to go around, Hall said.
"If someone didn't come to practice or to a game, people had to go into their lockers and use their equipment," he said.
The van full of gear might have even been too much for the school, Kehl said. They will have to count it and decide whether to donate the excess to other public high schools as lacrosse gains popularity in a city where many do not have the means to buy the expensive equipment.
"This is also about getting kids to play that might not be able to financially afford it," Kehl said.
Gina Marshall-Johnson, director of radio frequency engineering for AT&T;, urged the team to "win lots of games and make us proud" - something Collins said he thought they could do.
"If kids see different equipment, new equipment, they'll want to try out and play harder," he said. "Like they say, if you look good, you play good."