More than 70 first responders came together to honor the fallen and celebrate a love for lacrosse in a special ceremony at US Lacrosse.

First Responders Celebrate Brotherhood, Lacrosse

SPARKS, Md. — Just before 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, Tierney Field was filled with the usual sounds you hear at US Lacrosse on game days: defensemen calling out slides, lacrosse balls pinging an occasional pipe and friends catching up along the promenade.

And then it was suddenly quiet.

Team USA and Team Israel stopped their pregame warmups, lined up on their respective restraining lines and turned their attention to the 9/11 Memorial Garden overlooking the field. Surrounding the memorial were more than 70 first responders, representing more than a dozen agencies from Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. At the far end of the field, a large American flag hung from the ladder of a fire truck.

The memorial, dedicated last year on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, was the setting to honor first responders on National Fallen Firefighters Weekend. Following some brief words, a bell was rung as part of the Bells Across America campaign to commemorate fallen firefighters, and then a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

“I had tears in my eyes as we went through and the bagpipes played,” said Al Hernandez, a member of the Baltimore County Fire Department. “It’s emotional.”

"We’re willing to go to work knowing that may be the last time we go.”

A day of remembrance continued as the event moved inside for the dedication of a permanent 9/11 exhibit inside the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum. More than 70 members of the lacrosse community died in the terrorist attacks. The exhibit includes a video loop with photos to remember the victims, and a piece of steel from the World Trade Center donated to US Lacrosse last year. On Sunday, US Lacrosse was also presented a stone from the Pentagon that will be added to the exhibit.

“The importance of today for me isn’t so much that we remember the sorrow, but that we pass to the next generation the importance of that day and how we came together over all of that to perform one task,” said John Fee, a member of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). “Pass it down to these young kids, let them understand the importance of the unity of us and the importance of not forgetting the unfortunate events of that day.”

When US Lacrosse opened its new national headquarters last year, it held a game between the FDNY and New York Police Department lacrosse teams as part of the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial. The success of that event evolved into a lacrosse game this year between first responders from the New York and Baltimore/Washington metro areas.


“It was special,” said Hernandez, who played at UMBC under Hall of Fame coach Don Zimmerman and was a captain on the Retrievers’ 1998 NCAA tournament team. “To start off giving remembrance to the reason we’re here and bringing the brotherhood together, that’s what it made it special. Secondary to that, some great lacrosse by a bunch of old guys.”

The game, played during the Team USA Fall Classic weekend that included the U.S. men’s national team, Maryland, Towson and Israel, also was a chance for the lacrosse community to thank the first responders for their service.

“We’re willing to go to work knowing that may be the last time we go,” Fee said.

“For many of us, when you have time in, you do reflect on it more, especially as you get closer to retirement,” Hernandez said. “Myself, many others out here, have 15-20 years of service in. You kiss your wife and your kids goodbye when you leave for work. You really try not to reflect on that, because we’ve got a job to do as first responders. It is humbling when those mention it and recognize the sacrifice that many of us do day in and day out.”

Al Hernandez, right, dislodges the ball with a check during Sunday's North-South game between first responders at US Lacrosse's Tierney Field. Photo by John Strohsacker.

On Sunday, it was a chance just to have fun and compete as a brotherhood. Bobby Woody, a firefighter from Prince George’s County (Md.) broke a 9-9 tie in the fourth quarter and the South pulled away for a 12-9 victory.

Baltimore County firefighters Charlie Kolkin and Brandon Warren each scored three goals for the South, and Tim Werner of the FDNY led the North with two goals.

“It’s an honor to play on Tierney Field at US Lacrosse national headquarters,” Hernandez said. “How many folks can actually say they did that in their career?”