What can you do with a history major? You can offer leadership and a path toward social healing in the midst of a suffering community. This is what 2015 Messiah College history major Grady Breen, a social studies teacher and lacrosse coach, is doing at South Carroll High School in the Baltimore area.
Native Americans who grow up playing lacrosse hear stories of the game serving as medicine that can nourish one another.
South Carroll High School’s lacrosse program has been trying to come up with its own medicine this spring, with an entire community yearning to heal.
It’s how Cavaliers varsity coach Grady Breen used to talk with Noah Homayouni, one of his attackmen, before games. Breen wanted his players to use lacrosse as a way to feel better, mentally and physically, and carry it into other aspects of their lives. The coach referred to the Iroquois/Six Nations people playing lacrosse as a “medicine game.”
Homayouni was a big part of South Carroll’s offense, and entered his senior season as the team’s top returner in points (25 goals, 21 assists). The coronavirus pandemic got in the way of their season, however.
Schools closed across the state. Spring sports went on hiatus, and eventually got canceled. If not for Maryland’s mandated stay-at-home orders, Homayouni likely would have been at South Carroll on the afternoon of April 2, gearing up with his teammates for a varsity game against county rival Winters Mill.
He was home instead, on Bennett Branch Road in Mount Airy, when his neighbor’s estranged husband opened fire in front of their houses. Thirty-five-year-old Joseph Zujkowski of Gaithersburg shot Heather Zujkowski, 36, and Homayouni, 18, before returning to Montgomery County and killing himself.
Breen had more than 20 varsity players who needed each other, but the Cavs faced a few obstacles. They weren’t supposed to be gathering anywhere. They couldn’t meet up at school, or at Parker Field.
Breen wanted lacrosse to be their medicine.
“We have learned a lot about the community. … We have realized just how many people can step in and understand the grief and the sadness,” the coach said. “That has been beautiful.”
Seamus Kearney wasn’t about to let a pandemic keep him and his South Carroll teammates from each other.
The players went to a teammate’s house for a private ceremony. On April 6, the school honored Homayouni by turning on the stadium lights for 10 minutes, from 8 p.m. to 8:10 p.m., to recognize the senior’s jersey No. 10. The main fence along the entrance of Parker Field has been adorned with mementos and placards for Homayouni.
A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign was created not too long after Homayouni’s death, with a goal to raise $15,000 to help cover funeral costs and other expenses. The total surpassed $44,600 as of Thursday afternoon.
Breen used cellphones and video conferencing as outlets for his players to connect and grieve as one. Their medicine might have been difficult to swallow, but it was necessary.
“We all got a phone call from our coach and we heard about it, and immediately everybody was like, ‘We have to be together,’” said Kearney, a junior defenseman. “We have this quarantine going on, but if we’re all by ourselves, we’re not a team. And we have to be together for Noah. That’s what we had to do.”
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