Lauren's First and Goal
When John Loose ’87 first came to IC, the physical education teaching major planned to play football. Though he only played for one year, he made a lasting connection with head coach Mike Welch ’73, whom Loose credits with helping him get his first job out of college, coaching at the State University of New York at Albany. Loose did go on to a successful career in track and field, where he was named an All-American in the high jump and met his wife, Marianne Santoro Loose ’89.
The couple married and had a daughter, Lauren. At a very young age, Lauren was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, which resulted in an inventory of conditions, including tumors and strokes. In the early years after the diagnosis, the Looses attended several motorcycle rally fundraisers sponsored by the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
"We were just so happy to be able to do something to help," Marianne says. Eventually John came up with an idea for his family to contribute in their own way: a one-day football camp for high school students. The idea came while John, a longtime defensive coach at Lafayette College, was attending a multi-day camp in Michigan.
“I just remember thinking ‘Hey, I could pull this off. I know I could. I could pull this off, do it in one day, and give all the money to brain tumor research,’” he said. In June 2004, the first football camp for Lauren’s First and Goal was held. John had worked his connections to spread the word, and the result was heartening: 325 high school athletes came to learn from the 55 volunteer coaches. While they hoped to raise $5,000 that year, the camp brought in about $20,000.
The camp was featured in a video on ESPN as part of Buick’s Human Highlight Reel last fall. The Human Highlight Reel features stories of real NCAA athletes and coaches that inspire and make a difference in the world.
"I thought if we put out a good product, at a good price — like anything — that it would work,” John says. The next year, participation on both fronts doubled, and it has risen year-over-year. The 2013 camp had 316 college coaches from across divisions (and some from the NFL), close to 2,100 players in attendance, and raised about $104,000, a record sum. This year Rutger’s head coach Kyle Flood was the guest speaker. Past speakers have included football giants like Phil Simms, Archie Griffin, and Urban Meyer.
“They’re getting a true full day of football,” John says of the students, who are going into grades 9 through 12 in the fall. Every participant drills in offense and defense in the morning and again in the afternoon. John gets great enjoyment out of preparing the high school students for their next step in football, whether they’ll be playing for a big Division I program or not.
Attendance requires a minimum donation, which was $40 this past year. Participants and volunteers often give more, and many raise additional funds on their own throughout the year — thus earning a spot in the ever-expanding “Circle of Strength.” An additional camp has been held at Otterbein University in Ohio for the past four summers, as well. All told, Lauren’s First and Goal has raised over $1.5 million.
The majority of funds are distributed to pediatric cancer research, including Johns Hopkins, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Funds are also given to family service organizations, such as Camp Sunshine in Maine. The Foundation also works with hospitals to identify families who may need financial help, as uncovered costs for travel and lodging, or lost wages from time off work, all add up.
"Unless you're in this situation, you don't realize — even if you have good health insurance — the costs associated in dealing with pediatric cancers. Most treatments are not months; they're years,” Marianne says.
Still, like the daughter the foundation is named for, they remain optimistic. "It's all seven degrees of separation. It's amazing what's already happened,” John says. “Some of the donations have been huge. It's just because somebody found out and told somebody who could really help.”
To learn more about Lauren’s First and Goal, visit the website at www.laurensfirstandgoal.org.