From his vantage on the field, 36-year-old Army Reserve Major Erik Mineo is sometimes overwhelmed by the support he feels from fans at Shootout For Soldiers.
“It really makes my heart smile,” he said. “The sense of community … for this thing greater than everyone, you have these moments where you look left and right and you see people in the stands, and you see families and the food truck vendors, all centered around a concept of lacrosse to bring these people together.”
In its seventh year, Shootout For Soldiers will kick off its Baltimore event Wednesday at 7 p.m. The 24-hour event, split into 1-hour games, will run nonstop at Troy Park at Elkridge in Howard County through 7 p.m. Thursday, led off by a game between veterans and active-duty members.
“The game continues to expand,” founder Tyler Steinhardt said. “Over 24 hours, 10,000 people are expected to come out and we’ve got a whole food truck lineup to accommodate them. For us, it’s really a pleasure to be back to Baltimore year to year. The support from this community is so strong.”
As a high schooler at Boys’ Latin, Steinhardt dreamt up the Shootout with his friends in 2012 when they were trying to find a respectful method to honor the troops. The moonrise-to-moonrise format was made, initially, to break a world record for most lacrosse games played back-to-back within that time — which it did.
Mineo was there for the original event. While involved with the Johns Hopkins Reserve Officer Training Corps program, he heard something about lacrosse benefiting veterans from his friend Ben Harrow, a fellow Army West Point graduate, and went to check it out.
Mineo was immediately hooked. A Long Island native, he’s since competed in all seven Baltimore events, as well as a couple in New York.
“I might be biased, but Baltimore, being the original, has a powerful synergy in the air,” he said. “Whether you’re watching or playing, it’s electric.”
Over the past seven years, Shootout For Soldiers has spread to 13 cities, or, 312 hours of lacrosse. It has amassed over $2.5 million, doled out to multiple organizations that aid troops, including four national charities: Team RWB, Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund, Semper Fi Fund and the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Funds raised from the Baltimore event — which have reached over $118,000 toward a $150,000 goal — will be split and delivered to Catch a Lift, which aids post-Sept. 11 combat veterans; VetLinks, which aims to connect veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder to mental healthcare; and The Baltimore Station, a treatment program for homeless veterans.
“The need has become ever greater. We’ve sent four and a half million people overseas to the War on Terror,” Steinhardt said. “The community aspect of the event continues to grow to celebrate the cause and the sport of lacrosse even.”
Mineo plays for the active duty team each year. He’s spent 13 years involved in the airborne infantry and special forces and has been deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.
His pull to the military formed in the September of his freshman year at West Point, when planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11. Mineo knew people who died that day.
But Mineo had to battle his own school to be commissioned. As a faceoff specialist for Army lacrosse, he blew his ACL, MCL and part of his meniscus in his right knee his freshman season and then tore his ACL and part of his meniscus in his left knee the following year, requiring reconstructive surgeries in both.
As he graduated, West Point ordered Mineo to take his degree and go — but he fought.
“The doctors laughed and said, ‘You’re not going to last very long, even with the surgeries. Have fun, and good luck to you,’ ” Mineo said.
After over two decades of service, Mineo still finds himself addicted to the brother-and-sisterhood aspect. It’s one of the reasons he calls the Shootout “the best day of the year.”
He switched from faceoffs to defense last season to play closer with his old teammate Harrow, who became a double amputee after stepping on a pressure plate overseas and now plays in the net for the active duty team.
“The sense of purpose. Knowing that the person to the right and left of me will be there no matter what, in the most dire of circumstances. When you share those bonds, I connect it back to lacrosse,” he said. “It’s grueling, high tempo and everyone has to do their jobs.”
The tournament will feature players anywhere from 6 years old to 70 and skill levels from first-timers to college, as well as men and women, sometimes together.
Mineo has played for those other teams in the past, sometimes in the middle of the night or torrential downpour, whenever someone needed an extra man for the team. Once and always a faceoff specialist, he’ll twist his back — a cause of chronic pain because of another injury in training — in unnatural positions to try to catch the ball on release, crouching on his mangled knees.
“I pay the price for that,” he said. “The day after, and for the following week, I’m in a bad spot with the knees and back. That’s hard to admit, quite frankly. You want to be young and invincible and healthy, but the fact of the matter is even this year, I’m contemplating how hard I want to push it.”
Maryland lacrosse coach John Tillman will lead both the active duty and veterans’ sides, in a display of the togetherness spirit Steinhardt wants his event to emanate.
The 24 games will combine for one collective score, Stars versus Stripes, with no champion or trophy.
“It’s a lot less about strategy and more about connecting with those guys and making sure they have fun,” Tillman said. “Events like this remind you that, for all the things this country does wrong, there’s still a lot of good, too.”
And while the country is rife with division, Steinhardt hopes Shootout — which he said he still can’t believe has grown from his high school dream to a national program — will defy those trends.
“The event boils down to a lot of fun. We don’t get mired in politics or what’s going on society today,” Steinhardt said. “We’re just trying to bring folks together for one day, for 24 hours, to have some fun for a good cause.”
Those interested can donate to the cause at shootoutforsoldiers.com/events/baltimore-2018.