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Lacrosse squads honour fallen heroes

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As Thursday afternoon wore on, the spring sun stretched long over the field outside West Kildonan Collegiate, glinting off the grass and the goalposts.

It was, in other words, a perfect day for a couple of high school field lacrosse games.

"I'm sure the boys had something to do with that," said West Kildonan coach Lorne Sanders, who smiled and pointed skyward to the sun. To the memory of those now gone, the memory of two young lacrosse stars lost too soon, too young.

JD Lysack. Kelly Clay. The KC-JD Field Lacrosse Classic that played out at West Kildonan on Thursday bore their names, and it will happen every year. It opened with a tilt between Glenlawn and River East, but the main event was a match between two rival north Winnipeg teams. On one side were the West Kildonan Wolverines Clay played for until shortly before he died in 2010. On the other was the Garden City squad that Lysack helped build and was coaching at the time of his death in 2012.

'It feels good to be here'

— Cory Henkewich

On this beautiful Thursday, the Wolverines won the match 4-1, and will add their name to the KC-JD Classic's shiny trophy.

But the Classic wasn't really about the final score. It was a chance for a tight-knit lacrosse community to get together and just... remember.

"We really felt it would help the whole community in the healing process," Sanders said. "Kelly and JD would have wanted this. I think they'd be really proud."

You see, Lysack and the vivacious Clay were friends as well as lacrosse rivals, and above all else they loved the game. Lysack was a Garden City grad, who along with lifelong friend Cory Henkewich helped start the field lacrosse team there. When Clay died in April 2010, felled in a bar fight at just 18 years old, the community was stunned. In tribute, the Wolverines organized the first Kelly Clay Classic in May 2012, looking to draw something special from a tragedy so senseless.

Lysack helped coach Garden City in that inaugural event named after his friend. Later that month, he collapsed during a game, and didn't recover. He was just 20 years old.

"It's surreal to be here without him," said Henkewich, coach of the Garden City team. "I remember when he was here, we would talk about Kelly like this. It's really bizarre to think about... but in a good way. It's nice that everybody can get together, and spread the word, and come out and support it."

As he said this, Henkewich adjusted the bright yellow bandana wrapped around his head. The whole Garden City team was wearing them, a nod to the way they remember Lysack best: A kid with a bright bandanna and a great big grin, with a Slurpee in his hand. A guy who'd always answer his phone if someone needed a ride, or a friend.

"We had each other's backs," Henkewich said. "It feels good to be here. It's nice that he's not forgotten. For me, I know I'll never forget. I think about him every day. But it's nice to know that they recognize JD and Kelly, and it's two north Winnipeg schools battling it out for our respective schools, and also for who came before us and who helped our sport get to where it is today."

It is in part their legacy, perhaps, that field lacrosse in Manitoba is growing, up to over 200 players at the high school level this year.

In that growth, Sanders can see the influence of the two kids he once coached.

"Both those boys touched a lot of people," Sanders said. "They put lots back in the game. They were great players. But you know what? They were great kids. They were just awesome kids."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2014 C4

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