The Language of Lacrosse
Mary Hamula | 12/7/15 6:45pm
| Updated 12/7/15 6:45pm
American Word Magazine
Tyler Steinhardt is a student who wears many hats. More than just a senior studying international relations, he is a brother of Pi Kappa Alpha, recently revived American University’s club lacrosse team, and brought TEDxAmericanUniversity to campus. However, on top of all this, Steinhardt has also raised over $900,000 for U.S. soldiers through a 24-hour lacrosse tournament called Shootout for Soldiers. Steinhardt’s work, as well as his role as the general manager of Uganda Lacrosse, has led him to be nominated, for the second time, for Lacrosse Magazine’s Person of the Year.
Steinhardt has played lacrosse since he was four, but first saw the sport as a venue for social change after his first visit to Uganda his junior year of high school through an organization called Fields of Growth. This two-and-a-half week service trip allows student athletes to make a positive global change through doing what they love. This trip sparked a passion in Steinhardt and he made three more trips to Uganda. It was this work with Fields of Growth that led him to become Uganda Lacrosse’s general manager. He worked to create this lacrosse league of Ugandan men ages 19 to 40, and eventually helped to send 18 Ugandans to the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships in 2014. “My whole life has been changed because of that experience and working with these guys and their culture,” Steinhardt said. “The sport was the language we used to communicate…. We connected over lacrosse, and from there we connected over our families and our shared stories.”
As a sport with high barriers of entry, bringing Ugandans to the championships was groundbreaking. “In Uganda, we had a chance to really make history and break the glass ceiling of lacrosse, which was this white prep school sport in so many ways, and there’s 18 Ugandans playing who have seen more in their lives than I’ll ever see.”
With a new passion for social change, Steinhardt and a few of his friends decided to plan an event to raise money for wounded veterans after watching a video on the subject in class during their senior year of high school. None of their family members were serving in the armed forces, but as Steinhardt said, “We felt very, very lucky for the lives we lived and wanted to give back.” Four years later, Shootout for Soldiers has spread to five cities and has raised over $900,000 for The Wounded Warrior Project, Army Ranger Lead The Way Fund, Semper Fi Fund, and Gary Sinise Foundation. Steinhardt already has his eyes set on hitting the million mark.
The event consists of 24 one-hour lacrosse games, which means the event itself lasts for 24 straight hours. While it was originally designed this way in an attempt to break a world record, it has become tradition. The event has two teams, Stars and Stripes, and the score is a cumulative score of all 24 games. The players are as young as six and as old as 76, and it always starts with a veterans game. The event has had players in wheelchairs, parachuters and is constantly growing and expanding. And while there is a winner declared, Steinhardt insists that it’s not what the event is about. “It’s about the lacrosse community coming together for a greater cause,” he said.
This year, the event was held in Baltimore, Long Island, Boston, Columbus and Los Angeles and had over 46,000 attendees between the five locations. Steinhardt even bought an RV on Craigslist that he and his staff used to travel across the country to all of the events. And while the traveling was long, it helped to see familiar faces along the way. “I’ve got a really good support system of friends who have been there every step of the way,” he said, “There was a PIKE guy at every single event I ran this summer, there were 30 at the one in Baltimore, there were a dozen in Boston.” The event has begun to brand itself, Tyler said, and has created partnerships with large brands such as UnderArmour and GoPro. And even while he prepares to graduate, Shootout shows no signs of slowing down.
Steinhardt found out about his Lacrosse Magazine Person of the Year nomination from his sister. However, he is the first to tell you that he doesn’t feel like he deserves it. “It’s what I’ve been a part of that’s so great, not me,” he said. “The first time I was nominated, I insisted nobody put the link online, but nobody of my family and friends listened.” But the nomination was humbling and reminded him of all the good he was doing at a time when running the organization had become taxing. His nomination, scattered among Division I athletes and professional players, does seem out of place. But when you look at all of the good he has done both for veterans and the reputation of the sport, his place on the list is a no-brainer.
Steinhardt loves to be busy. Currently, he coaches two inner city lacrosse teams and a basketball team. Last year, he played every intramural sport offered at American while reviving the Club Lacrosse team. He used his fascination for big ideas to bring TedxAmericanUniversity to campus, an event that featured speakers such as Professor Scott Talan and student journalist Trey Yingst. And two years ago, he adopted a pitbull he named Kali from the Washington Humane Society and has been involved with the organization ever since. His fraternity is even doing a fundraiser for them this spring. Somewhere within all that, he is an SIS major who is graduating this year with a passionate love for AU and everyone he has met at the school, from his friends to his professors.
Many people can identify with Steinhardt’s mission of doing something he loves to make a positive social change. However, not many people can say they’ve done it as successfully as he has. He has managed to channel his passion for lacrosse into something bigger than himself, creating an entire organization and shattering barriers along the way. And with graduation fast approaching, only he knows where his mission will take him next.