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More than just a game

Shane Warner’s impactful summer journey to Uganda

September 25, 2012


More than just a game

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Contact: Mike Porter (sports1@binghamton.edu)

While most college students were enjoying their summer months in the sun with friends and family, senior men’s lacrosse player Shane Warner took time to give back. Warner, a resident of Tomkins Cove, N.Y., went on a 16-day trip this July with the ‘Fields of Growth’ grassroots lacrosse program to Uganda joining a collection of some of the top lacrosse talent from around the country.

Fields of Growth is in its fourth year of existence taking multiple trips each year to both Uganda and Costa Rica. Founder and Executive Director Kevin Dugan, who also works as the Manager of Youth and Community Programs at the University of Notre Dame, has been sending some of the top lacrosse players from both the high school and collegiate ranks who have an interest in giving back. Thanks to the help of Dugan and his movement, thousands of dollars in supplies and support have been given to their grassroots program.

The program focuses on not only interacting through lacrosse, but also with helping in the community. Through a host of donations and time spent working in Uganda, they have been able to build the ‘Hopeful School’, a location where orphans and neglected children are able to learn and get an education. Thousands of dollars have been donated and used towards school equipment, clothes, shoes and even tuition. With everything the program offers it was a pretty easy decision from Shane’s perspective on joining the program.

“Originally, I knew that I wanted to travel over the summer,” he said. “I heard about the program through friends in the lacrosse community and thought it would be a perfect combination of travel and volunteerism. Also, not only would I be able to educate and develop young people on the game of lacrosse, but also offer any help I could to a community in need.”

With a group of around ten individuals that included student-athletes from lacrosse powers such as UNC, Notre Dame and Princeton, Warner boarded a 15-hour plane ride to Uganda. After getting settled in, it was time for their group to get to work. With few expectations and a lot unknown they headed to the lacrosse fields.

“I get there and they have a terrible field,” Warner said. “There’s no grass, one goal and no end lines. The field is just covered in dirt and in bad shape, but you look around and there’s kids everywhere running around with no shoes playing and laughing like they didn’t have a care in the world.”

Lacrosse is a relatively foreign sport in Africa, so their lacrosse program as you might imagine is relatively new. The Uganda Lacrosse Union, which is partnered with Makerere University Business School, has increased the country’s interest in the sport. For starters, the country has a national tournament every year in which all five of the main universities compete against one another for the title of best team in the nation. With the help of Fields of Growth, young kids and adults alike have begun to love the sport they see as “soccer with a stick in their hands”.

In what was a highly organized and well-run program, the camp counselors helped work with kids ages 15 and under on basic training such as cradling, passing and shooting. Despite a bit of a language barrier, kids quickly picked up on instruction and demonstrated sound skills throughout drills.

“I was expecting the clinics to be a bit hectic and without direction. It was the complete opposite. The coaches were well trained and the kids were receptive and passionate about the game. The program is definitely on a positive path.”

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Time was also spent playing and coaching with the national squad. Uganda is the only country in Africa with a lacrosse program and in 2014 they hope to qualify for the World Championships held in Denver.
In between practices and clinics, the group spent a large deal of time helping out in the community. They visited the impoverished town of Masaka to build a school, which is about a three-mile trip outside of the capital city Kampala. For four nights, they spent their time in a convent without running water or electricity. Each day the group walked three miles to the school and put in hours of work laying bricks and working in the pineapple fields, which is one of Uganda’s main crops and a source of capital for improving schooling conditions in Masaka.

Shane spent time visiting an orphanage, a juvenile center and the ‘Hopeful School’ where they taught lessons and interacted with the children. The rooms were packed with kids, over three times the necessary capacity, who couldn’t wait to play with their visitors for the day.

“At the schools, these kids just latch on to you,” Warner laughed. “Five kids at a time will grab on to your arm, hug and squeeze you. They were so thrilled to see us there even if it was just for a few minutes. To see that they cherished our support really made the trip memorable.”

Andrew Musambi, who was in charge of Shane’s group for the two-plus weeks he was there, can vouch for the excitement these kids feel when they are being helped. Musambi, who is Ugandan-born and a graduate of the Makerere Business School, has been with Fields of Growth since 2011 and never tires of seeing the smiles resulting from a visit like this.

“The children here don’t ask for much,” Musambi explained. “They appreciate what they receive and are overjoyed when well fed men and women come around to let them know what life is like where they are from… to let them know that someday they could be just like anyone else who stands before them.”

When he wasn’t coaching or giving back to the community, the senior midfielder was able to take in some of the sights and attractions of Uganda. He went rafting down the Nile and also bungee jumped during some free time. But, in many ways this wasn’t merely a trip to help promote the game of lacrosse or take in the sights, for Shane it was about helping out children in need.

“No matter what, I want to make it an emphasis to keep giving back to the Fields of Growth program,” Warner said. “There’s no way I can just forget about everything I saw, throw it on the resume and be done with it. These kids deserve more than that. A little bit of help can go a long way and I want to help spread the word.”

Warner first plans on getting his teammates at Binghamton to help out. His first goal is to raise $500, an amount that would help send two kids to the Hopeful School for an entire year.  Whether it be donating school supplies or shoes, he has the full intention of giving back.

“Shane’s involvement is a very big commitment and we are excited that a young man like this can inspire and help develop the mind sets of all those who are faced with limitations caused by both society and tradition,” Musambi said. “His enthusiasm and passion was a ray of hope for these children and the mere presence and ability to give back is greatly appreciated.”

Now that Warner looks back on his trip, he is truly grateful for the opportunity. Not only did he serve as a positive role model in the lacrosse community, but also as a sign of hope.

“I joined the Fields of Growth movement primarily to promote and spread the game of lacrosse to a continent where the game is essentially foreign, but once I arrived there it became so much more than that. From the orphanage, to the juvenile center, to the construction of the Hopeful School in Masaka, the trip became more about improving the everyday lives of others and less about a game.”

To learn more about the Fields of Growth program visit their website at www.fieldsofgrowthintl.org

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