Trent Burke sees lacrosse as “just a game.”
Burke and his Saugus boys lacrosse teammates were playing “just a game” as they competed in a weekend tournament the weekend following a fatal school shooting that killed three teenagers and injured another three on Nov. 14.
When two players from the Professional Lacrosse League came to hold a clinic at Saugus for the boys lacrosse team on Jan. 15, it was “just a game.”
What Burke describes as “just a game,” has healing powers, powers that for Saugus are indescribable, especially in situations like when Joe Walters and Kyle Hartzell of the PLL paid a visit to the team.
“It was really big for the team,” Burke said. “It really brought the hype and the just the whole mood of the team up a lot and it was a really cool thing to come and it brought attention to us and to see they cared.”
Shortly after the tragic events at Saugus High School, Saugus boys lacrosse parents Millie and Trevor Hensley reached out to US Lacrosse to see if there was anything that the lacrosse community could do for the program.
They expected a few hats, maybe some T-shirts for the team. Two professional players personally visiting them exceeded the expectations of everyone involved with Saugus lacrosse.
“You’re waiting to meet a lot of people you look up to and you know you don’t know what it’s gonna be like so you’re a little nervous, you’re a little anxious but overall it’s just kind of like excited and you kind of like, you know, you’re sitting in class counting the days until you can get to meet them,” said Cents senior Nathan Miller.
The PLL is only a year old, but has quickly gained popularity, especially amongst youth and prep lacrosse players. Most Centurion lacrosse players recognized the pro players’ names immediately and were thrilled to receive one-on-one attention from them.
Walters, who plays for Redwoods Lacrosse Club and Hartzell, who plays for Atlas Lacrosse Club, delivered. The two spent time talking with the Centurions as well as taking them through a few drills in their visit to Saugus.
“They were happy to see us,” Hartzell said. “They were ready to learn from us, experience what we had to say to them. I think they were just super pumped to have us on campus and they knew who we were and they were pumped for a lacrosse clinic.
“I spoke in the first part of the clinic about the situation and after that, we didn’t talk about it again. The focus was to get their mind off it.”
The experience of the PLL clinic brought the Centurions even closer together. The events that had unfolded months earlier had already bonded the team and forced them to mature rapidly in a short period of time.
Both Miller and Burke said that after what happened at their school, they were drenched in feelings of helplessness. Burke said he even felt waves of anger in the following days. But the night of Nov. 14, the team met as a group and helped begin the process of dissipating some of those feelings.
“You feel kind of, wishing you could do more. It’s one of those situations,” Miller said. “You’re just kind of stuck in a closet for a couple hours. You can protect the people you’re with during the time, but your head is spinning. There’s so much going on and it’s hard to wrap your head around it. You’re kind of puzzled.
“But almost immediately, lacrosse was like the first people I saw after the shooting. That night, we got together at a coach’s house.”
The team is focused this season, with goals like beating reigning Foothill League champions West Ranch and capturing a Foothill League title. The Cents are currently 1-2 overall this season with a win over El Camino Real.
League play begins on March 19 as Saugus is scheduled to host Hart.
“I’m friends with mostly everyone here. Really, really close to everyone here and I think we just added another layer of our togetherness and brotherhood,” Burke said. “The goal is to take League this year, beat West Ranch for the first time. Bring home the first lacrosse title in the Saugus history and just win some games.”
While those games may be defined as “just games” by players like Burke, they’ll also serve as some of the final steps in the healing process for the Centurions.