Jimmy Ryan set out to play some fun fall lacrosse with his friends without all of the drama that might come from a big-time club team. In the end, he created a movement that is showing players across the country that there are bigger things in the world than the results on the field.
In November 2014, Jimmy Ryan was a freshman in high school in Oregon and was burnt out from the typical summer club lacrosse seasons. Wanting to bring the fun back to lacrosse, he decided to put together a team of friends and “friends of friends” for the sole purpose of having fun while playing high level lacrosse.
They called their team the Whales, and intended on playing in one tournament that fall together. After building a team of local and west coast players, Ryan decided to dedicate their play in that tournament to Lori Beck, his teammate’s mother who is a Stage IV Breast Cancer survivor. Ryan decided he would donate $2 for every goal scored in the tournament that summer to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Most of the team knew Mrs. Beck and he challenged his teammates to donate or ask for donations too. Although they did not win the tournament, they achieved so much more, as they ended up raising $10,000 to help fight cancer.
What started as a small idea with just one team of friends looking to have some fun playing in a tournament together, led to a huge outpouring of players looking to join the Whales. Ryan and his brothers expanded the program by adding more teams, including girls teams, with a focus on not only lacrosse, but common fundraising missions. The Whales choose a new person to honor for each tournament, and the money raised is donated to a cause of the honoree’s choice. The teams spend time getting to know the honoree, wear the honoree’s name on their jerseys to remind them who they are playing for, and even invite them to games. To date the Whales have had fifteen teams, honored six people, and raised over $120,000 for many different incredible causes.
In their most recent tournament, the 2020 Sand Storm Lacrosse Festival in California, the Whales chose Lance Fenderson as their person to honor. Fenderson is a high school senior from North Carolina, and professional race car driver. Although racing is his passion, he was also a lacrosse player in high school. During a high school lacrosse game in May 2019, Fenderson collided with another player and suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the chest down.
Fenderson could not travel across the country for the tournament but he FaceTimed the team during their team dinner and also during halftime huddles. The players and coaches sent him video DMs and texts all throughout the tournament. The Whales made him feel like he was with the team every step of the way. Fenderson asked that the Whales raise money for the Kelly Brush Foundation, which provides adaptive sports equipment for people living with spinal cord injuries. The equipment is life changing physically and mentally for the recipients. The Whales players worked extremely hard raising money for this cause, and the teams managed to raise $20,000! Whales encourages players to raise money in whatever way they are most comfortable. Players have done everything from bake sales, car washes, creating and selling succulent gardens, high school boys making homemade caramels to sell, Christmas tree recycling, lacrosse clinics for youth, Halloween movie nights, and much more. Whales Lax does not collect any charity money, all donations go directly from the player or their sponsors to the charity. Whales provides a link for the charity on their website.
The Whales lacrosse teams are very impressive on the field as well. At the Sand Storm Lacrosse Festival, each Whales team made it to the championship game in their respective divisions (Interestingly enough, the Whales 2022 team played against ADVNC National in the championship. ADVNC was also playing for charity. Their team raised approximately $8000 for the JED Foundation for suicide prevention). Although both Whales teams finished in second, the boys came away knowing they had achieved something far more important than a lacrosse game.
For more information about Whales Lacrosse, go to http://whaleslax.com/