No high school student in the State of New York will have a normal graduation this year with COVID-19 effectively ending students’ time together back in March.
With that in mind, the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) is attempting to cheer up students on Long Island, specifically student-athletes, in the midst of the pandemic.
The league has teamed up with Chipotle Mexican Grill for Virtual Senior Day, an event that will occur prior to commencement to honor various lacrosse student athletes.
“We were having a conversation internally about the tough times we’re going through with coronavirus and what was lost for some,” PLL’s Director of Marketing, Tyler Steinhardt, said. “We got into a discussion about people who didn’t get to have closure on certain parts of their life, especially high school seniors who didn’t get to have the end of their lacrosse seasons. So we wanted to come up with an idea of how to make it better and we put out this idea of having PLL players shout out and recognize players at their own school.”
Those MacArthur High School students include Hugh Kelleher, Dan Calderon, Joe Manfredo, Jacob Velasquez, Jake Morris, James Davie, Logan Carrizo, Vlad Rudnick, Shane Lazina and Nicholas Dougherty.
The league hopes others will get involved on social media as they encourage players and fans to post post pictures of graduating team members, tag the PLL and use the hashtag #VirtualSeniorDay. Those who participate will be entered to win a dinner for four at Chipotle.
As part of the tribute, former MacArthur High School Lacrosse player and current goalie of the Atlas Lacrosse Club, Scott Rodgers, will deliver a speech to high school seniors.
“I had this opportunity to do this and wanted to make it special,” Rodgers said. “I honestly felt like I could put my little twist on things. I’m known for my authenticity of being blunt yet in your face, kind of like the people’s champ of the PLL. People gravitate towards me in that sort of way. I had an opportunity to shout out the MacArthur guys and I wanted to do that.”
Rodgers graduated MacArthur High School in 2005, but the school had a lasting impact on him that he won’t ever forget.
“My whole me is based on my father who is a blue collar guy,” Rodgers said. “My coaches had me in the weight room at 5:30 a.m. every day and I built a routine that I carried with me to Notre Dame. The life lessons I learned from just doing a 5:30 a.m. weight lifting routine kind of shaped me into who I am.
“One of my teachers, Bernadette Bissoondial, really inspired me to be me, to be Scott Rodgers. At the time, I didn’t know that I was kind of a unique character. I knew I had a personality that teachers probably hated at times, but they also all loved me. I learned a lot from the people and staff there.”
During his time at Notre Dame, Rodgers found plenty of success as he recorded 371 saves. However, he always felt that his high school and hometown represented more of who he was.
“My parents both went to MacArthur High School and were high school sweethearts,” Rodgers said. “I carried that MacArthur pride with me all through college at Notre Dame. I’m definitely not a Notre Dame kind of guy. If you talk to anyone to this day, I’m definitely like a fish out of water there.”
Rodgers finds one of the players being recognized to remind him of his younger self.
“I’ve met Hugh Kelleher before and I knew how special of a player and athlete he was,” Rodgers said. “I actually met him about a year and a half ago. I ran one of my Scott Rodgers Academies at MacArthur High School and Hugh came up as a shooter and a good kid. I’m a professional athlete and I was going, ‘whoa, look at this kid.’ I saw a little bit of myself in him. I remember being a huge fish in a small pond and Hugh is that kind of kid. He’s like me because he’s a four-time All County, two-time All-American out of MacArthur High School and I felt like he could’ve been that guy this season.”
Many student-athletes’ senior seasons being cut short or lost completely is an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic.
Some lacrosse players who are graduating high school might look at this as an opportunity to better themselves on a personal level, though.
“My heart breaks for these guys because they don’t get to play,” Rodgers said. “I teach these kids to value it because once it’s gone, there’s nothing like it. When you talk to a high school kid, they don’t really conceptualize it. I think this year is unique because you take something away from someone and you kind of see what they’re made of. You strip them of their accolades, ability and what they’re good at and then you get to see what kind of person they are. You get to see who’s driven, wants to work and do the stuff that nobody cares about.
“I used to coach Towson and Marquette University and when I’m looking for kids, I want ones with character,” Rodgers said. “Right now, these kids are growing up a lot faster than I did because they are going through adversity. I honestly think this shows a lot of college coaches who’s the man and who’s not. You’re getting to see who’s a mature kid and who’s going to take the summer off.”