Published January 28. 2013 4:00AM Updated January 29. 2013 3:29PM
Ryan Hansen has certainly made his mark with lacrosse, specifically in Madison. Prior to competing at Lafayette College, he played the sport for Hand. After college, Ryan came back to where it all began as a youth lacrosse coach for the town and also currently coaches junior varsity lacrosse for Old Saybrook. But it was a team Ryan coached recently that has shined the brightest light on giving back for those who sacrifice for our freedom.
On Nov. 24 of last year, a team of Madison lacrosse players played in the Sticks for Soldiers Thanksgiving Lacrosse Classic in Fairfield. Sticks for Soldiers is a charity lacrosse tournament held to raise money for wounded troops. The primary mission of this tournament is to provide support and give thanks to the servicemen and women who put their lives on the line for our country. Last year's tournament honored and supported two Connecticut soldiers in United States Army Captain Greg Galeazzi of Glastonbury and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Greg Caron of Ellington. They both are recovering from bi-lateral leg amputations and other critical injuries received in Afghanistan in 2011. Ryan was one of the coaches in this wonderful charity event and, once he got word of the event, there was no question that he wanted to be involved.
"This was an event that had been going on for a while and I had a parent contact me about it," says Ryan on the event, which was held at Taft Field at Fairfield Warde High School. "Once I heard what it was all about, I joined without a doubt. It was extremely cold that day and it was a different type of tournament for the guys. It was 7-on-7, played on a shorter field in a shorter time frame. Yet the kids worked so hard to play and put the event together and it was a high-impact program so all the funds went to benefit the two soldiers."
As an added component of humanitarianism through the game he holds dearly, Ryan and his squad designed uniform pinnies to honor each branch of the military with help from MacWear Athletics (Ryan's employer) in Madison. They raffled off three of the unique uniforms to raise money for the honorees. Ryan feels that this gesture, coupled with some dynamic speeches, combined to form a spectacular display of sport and respect.
"The team wore the uniforms on the day of the event and then helped organize the auction of them," says Ryan, who also played football at Hand. "It was such a well-done event with an amazing speech by a Marine sergeant that talked about finding strength no matter what challenge came your way. I emphasized that with the kids, as well. The parents are impressed each year and the kids did a great job with the fundraising. We even were able to have a spot in the Lacrosse Playground blog to mention the event and that we were accepting funds."
In terms of the basic nature of the act that was coaching in the event, it is a hallmark of what Ryan is all about as a mentor and coach. While also enjoying his time at Old Saybrook, he feels that it is all about not only giving back yourself to others, but also communicating similar life messages to athletes through sports.
"It was awesome to give back, which is the main reason why I coach," says Ryan. "I also see true value in learning about life through sports. Sports are unique opportunities to show selflessness and sacrifice. It's a great mix of learning sports, along with other intangibles. Winning is huge, but it's more important about developing relationships and life skills. [On the Old Saybrook job] I was energized by my grandfather to coach; I was hesitant at first, but I loved it. I may or may not have the coaching bug yet, but I can't say enough about the quality of athletes and people here."
Adds Charlie Stone, a parent of one of Ryan's players, Berkley: "Ryan's involvement with the Sticks for Soldiers team was great. The boys really respond well to him and like working with him. He knows lacrosse and communicates it well and they all have some fun in the process. I've found him to be a very engaging and bright guy and have been impressed by the way he has run the teams he's worked with."
In addition to the other life values Ryan views through sports, he sees great gain through setbacks while also developing valuable connections that can last a lifetime. He also takes great pride in his sport and what it can do for futures.
"Some of the most useful lessons I have gained are in loss because college athletics was challenging before you move out into a new scene," says Ryan, who thanks his family, along with Hand football Coach Steve Filippone, for his success. "You will hear more 'no's' now than in athletics, but you continue through it. I have also learned that life is also about building lasting relationships. Lacrosse is still a growing sport that is developing regionally and it can open so many doors for people."