By By Elaina Clarke and Community Times Staff Reporter
Jun 18, 2014 | 8:00 AM
On June 19 and 20, thousands of spectators are expected to attend the third annual Shootout for Soldiers, a 24-hour lacrosse event benefiting wounded American soldiers.
The event, which combines Baltimore's love of lacrosse with the opportunity to give back to servicemen and women, is the only one of its kind in the country. This year, proceeds will go to four organizations: Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund, Semper Fi Fund, Wounded Warrior Project and the Gary Sinise Foundation.
The event will include not just lacrosse, but music, refreshments, barbeque, a raffle and a silent auction of artwork and Ravens memorobilia, and games for children.
The event is the brainchild of Reisterstown resident Tyler Steinhardt, an International Relations major at American University, who originally thought of it as a way to give back while in high school.
"I was a senior at Boys Latin and we had a community service club and we were talking about different things that we could do and someone brought up a news story that showed veterans transitioning back into society from deployment," Steinhardt said.
He and his friends — Brink Van Horn, Brendan Owens and Gianni Villasanta — took the news story to heart, and began discussing what fundraising events they could put together to benefit returning solders.
"We decided to do lacrosse because lacrosse is so big in the Baltimore area, and we thought of a 24 hour game," he said.
The fundraiser they came up with consists of 24 games — each an hour long — between two teams of changing players, adding up to a single score. The players pay for registration, and both participants and spectators raise donations for the cause, though attendance is free. The event is open for lacrosse fans to participate, but it also includes a Major League Lacrosse game consisting of MLL and college players.
The four friends worked together to make the idea into not just a one-time event, but an organization that would hold the fundraiser annually.
Van Horn, now a rising junior at Texas Christian University who handles the graphic design and media relations for the organization, can recall the initial stages of getting the fundraiser off the ground.
"It started our senior year in high school, and it was probably around February of 2012, we were just talking to each other and thinking of what we could do for the military, and Tyler had this crazy idea to do a 24-hour lacrosse game and we just kind of ran with that," he said. "We had to get cleared through our athletic director, and the lights and all the logistics of the first year — it was a big process — but it ended up to be a success and it's still running now."
Not only is the event still running, but since its first year, it has only grown. Steinhardt added women's games to the roster last year — as it was previously limited to men's teams — and this year the event is expanding to Long Island as well.
From the first year to the second, the number of players increased from 1,000 to 2,000 — the greatest number possible due to a limitation of two fields — and the same amount is expected this year. The event raised more than $100,000 the first year and $150,000 last year.
Madeline Schildwachter, Semper Fi Fund community events manager for the Eastern Region, said the event is important not only for the funds it will raise, but also for the awareness it will generate in the public.
"It's really going to give them a hands-on chance to learn about why our organization exists, so I think the firsthand awareness that is going to come out of it is going to be priceless," she said. "It does give members of the community a chance to see that these individuals need support for a very long time. Not everyone lives in a military town where they see veterans every day, especially throughout their recovery. And it's also great for them to see that these people are such an inspiration, the things they can accomplish, and they don't let life get them down. It teaches us all a lesson about being resilient and strong."
Steinhardt, who took last semester off of school to focus on expanding Shootout, said he "fell into" the role of directing the event. However, he said he is extremely fortunate to have the continued support of his friends throughout the growth of the organization.
"I'm really grateful to have such a great group of friends who have stuck with the event and helped make it grow," he said.
With help from donations and contributions, he and his friends continue to personally oversee the entire event, from the food to the set-up and breakdown.
"We do everything, from start to finish," he said. "My team and I, we get the food and cook it out. We're very grateful to companies like Mars Supermarkets who donate a lot of food to us. Hot dog buns, meats … they've really been a great supporter the last few years."
For Steinhardt, the event is an opportunity to give back to those who need support the most.
"It's really an honor to work with the men and women who serve our country, and I guess its kind of my way of giving back to support those people who defend our freedoms every day," he said.
Van Horn, who will be on the sidelines for the first time due to a back injury sustained during a car accident, said the game is a way to support soldiers while sharing a game that is so important to the community.
"It's been very rewarding to give back to the community in a way that we all love like lacrosse," he said.
Steinhardt and his friends plan to continue to expand the event in future years, hoping to take the idea that formed in high school to a nation-wide event.
"We're hoping we can continue to grow in this event," he said. "We definitely want to grow this, I think we can take this nationwide."