Lacrosse Player’s Memory Lives On Through Record-Breaking Fundraiser

December 2, 2021 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

When Will Barrow was playing lacrosse for the University of Virginia, Paul Rodriguez and Regan Quinn were in elementary school, so they never got to meet him. Yet that hasn’t stopped the current UVA players from learning all about Barrow through his former teammates, coaches and friends.

“Will was an incredibly social guy, a very likable guy, a really fun person to be around,” Rodriguez said.

“Everybody liked him, and he was just an amazing athlete,” Quinn added.

It’s been more than 13 years since Barrow took his own life, but his memory has lived on through an annual event that has raised tens of thousands of dollars and brought attention to student-athletes’ mental health struggles.

Last month, the Will Barrow Memorial Flag Football Tournament raised a record $51,800 – roughly twice as much as the previous high – for the UVA HELP Line and Harlem Lacrosse.

Cavalier head lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany said all the credit goes to his players, particularly Rodriguez.

“He spearheaded this,” Tiffany said, “and was the major agent of change who created a different echelon of fundraising.

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Group of students selling tshirts and smoothies at a table outside of a UVA building
Members of the men’s lacrosse team raised roughly twice as much as they ever had before. (Contributed photo)

“The program has raised significant dollars in the past, but never to this level. … Paul took this to the next level.”

Rodriguez, a New York native who grew up in Los Angeles, said it was a team effort in the truest sense.

“Regan and I had incredible buy-in,” he said. “We had help from every single kid on the team, and the support was really overwhelming.

“We were very proud to have that reception from our team, as well as from the community as a whole.”

Quinn grew up 10 minutes from Barrow’s hometown on Long Island, New York.

“That was very empowering for me and why this hit so close to home – literally and figuratively,” Quinn said. “Our high school put a big emphasis on mental health. The message was that [Barrow] was in your shoes and you have to be looking out for each other.”

Paul Rodriguez headshot in football uniform
UVA head coach Lars Tiffany said fourth-year McIntire student Paul Rodriguez spearheaded this year’s fundraising efforts. (University Athletics photo)

Rodriguez, a fourth-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, said his former teammate and roommate Jackson Appelt, who ran the event prior to graduating last spring, gave him some helpful advice, with one of the big tips being to seek more corporate sponsorships.

“That was something we really pursued – both local businesses and then businesses of parents and friends that we knew,” said Rodriguez, when asked about the team’s fundraising success.

“And the environmental factors were a really big thing. With COVID isolations and quarantines and not being able to be together in big groups, last year was a really tough and difficult year for our team … so mental health was really something that resonated.”

While current UVA team members are too young to remember Barrow, they have learned a lot about him through former UVA player and assistant coach Hannon Wright. An attorney in the Charlottesville area, Wright gives annual talks to the team about Barrow, complete with photos, videos and personal anecdotes.

“Without Hannon, there would be a broader disconnect between who Will Barrow was and how this occurred – what events transpired that led to his suicide,” Tiffany said. “Hannon’s been an invaluable resource.”

Student Headshot in football uniform
Graduate student Regan Quinn grew up near Barrow’s hometown on Long Island, New York. (University Athletics photo)

Barrow played on UVA’s 2006 NCAA championship team and was captain of the 2008 squad that advanced to the Final Four. Considered one of the top defensive midfielders in the country, he was selected in the second round of the Major League Lacrosse draft by the Chicago Machine and appeared in five games during his rookie year.

In 2009, a year after Barrow’s death, Barrow’s former teammate Max Pomper started the flag football fundraiser, with the proceeds going to the HELP Line (434-924-TALK).

Affiliated with Madison House, the HELP Line is an anonymous, confidential telephone service serving the residents of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and UVA. HELP strives to provide callers with an empathetic ear for any sort of issue they wish to discuss, and to connect them with long-term services in the community, such as counseling services, medical services or drug treatment programs.

“With the HELP hotline, there is an outlet for people in need in times of crisis around UVA and the Charlottesville area,” Pomper said in a 2009 VirginiaSports.com interview. “This is something we wish Will would have known about.”

Today, college administrators and coaches around the country are prioritizing the emotional and mental health of student-athletes more than ever, and the stigma that once discouraged the disclosure of mental health issues is fading, Tiffany said.

“It has become acceptable to share your vulnerability,” Tiffany said. “Our student-athletes are much more willing to put their hands up and say, ‘I need help.’

 

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“So it’s really critical that I create an environment where this continues to be the norm, where it’s OK for someone to raise their hand and say, ‘I’m struggling right now with some things that I might not be able to get through alone.’

“It’s imperative that we as coaches listen to our athletes and give them the proper resources, because I really believe that the student-athlete today is under greater pressure than the student-athlete from 10 years ago or 20 years ago and definitely 30 years ago when I was playing.”

Social media has a lot to do with those pressures, Tiffany said.

“Things are public too quick,” he said. “You can be evaluated, berated – in multiple ways – all day and all night …

“As athletes at UVA and for men’s lacrosse, you accept pressure; you crave pressure. Pressure is a privilege. But you also understand that there is an impact because of everything we’re asking our men to put themselves through.

“It’s a different generation and I think they’re under much more pressure than I think the rest of us ever were.”

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To that end, the UVA athletic department employs two sports psychologists whom student-athletes have regular access to.

Past lacrosse players have also done their part, with Appelt creating a mental health program through the athletic department called the “Campfire Series” that connects student-athletes with peers.

Three years ago, the team decided to donate another portion of the proceeds from the flag football tournament to Harlem Lacrosse, a non-profit organization that aims to help kids in five cities through academic support, mentoring, leadership training, college readiness career exploration, admissions counseling and lacrosse instruction.

“Finding an organization that helps teach kids life lessons through lacrosse is pretty unique, and the work that they’re doing is very impressive,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve had some incredible success of sending kids off to play [in college] and have really raised the level of diversity in lacrosse.

“We’re super proud and happy to be supporting both HELP Line – which is important to our community – and Harlem Lacrosse.”

The HELP Line phone number is 434-924-TALK and can be reached 24/7.

To make a donation or learn more about the Will Barrow Memorial Flag Football Tournament or Harlem Lacrosse, follow the Instagram account @willbarrowmemorial2021.

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications