More than 50 Riverhead lacrosse alumni, members of teams fielded since the program's inception, played in the program's first annual alumni game dedicated to the memory of Tech. Sgt Dashan Briggs, a lacrosse player and 2007 graduate. Courtesy photo: Tammy Hayon

It was a stirring and emotional day for the men of the Riverhead lacrosse program, alumni who came together to honor the memory of one of their own and raise money for the wife and two young children he left behind.

The First Annual Dashan J. Briggs Memorial Lacrosse Alumni Game was played yesterday at the Pulaski Sports Complex, where more than 50 Riverhead graduates turned out to play. Each paid an entry fee of $25, allowing the lacrosse booster club to present Rebecca Briggs with a $1,000 donation to help her young family as it copes with the airman’s death. Briggs, 30, a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant in the 106th Rescue Wing, was aboard a military helicopter that crashed in western Iraq March 15.  All seven men aboard the aircraft perished.

The alumni split into two teams — players who graduated in even-numbered years versus those who graduated in odd-numbered years. The even team, which wore blue jerseys, won the game, 8-5.

Lacrosse program founder and former coach Tony Lawrence organized the alumni game with current coach Vic Guadagnino and Riverhead Boys Lacrosse Booster Club president Tammy Hayon.

Lawrence started Riverhead’s lacrosse program in 2000 and served as head coach for a decade. Guadagnino, a Riverhead High School social studies teacher, took the helm in 2011.

Lawrence coached Briggs, a 2007 graduate, who was a member of the first varsity boys lacrosse team in Riverhead’s history.

Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs and his wife Rebecca, with their children Jayden and Ava.
Courtesy photo

“He was very loving and so polite. He came from a great family. His grandfather taught him respect. We have a saying in lacrosse: ‘I got your back.’ Dashan was our backer. His teammates knew they could always count on Dashan. He was a great young man,” Lawrence said.

“Champions move on, but life lessons and the education you get stay with you. They are what matters,” he said.

“We wanted to be able to recognize him and the love the lacrosse community shares,” Lawrence said yesterday. “We wanted to bring those two things together.”

The idea for an alumni game has been discussed for a while, the organizers said. Lawrence has been coaching in a summer lacrosse league that draws Riverhead alumni and they’ve been asking about an alumni game, he said. Guadagnino said he’s also been talking about an alumni game with Hayon.

“Some alumni had been prodding me in the past couple of years to do an alumni game,” Guadagnino said.

Briggs’ passing was what moved the idea from discussion to action, Guadagnino said.

“I called Tony and he got right on board, reaching out to many alumni,” Guadagnino said.

Lawrence and Guadagnino, who coached against each other when Guadagnino was head coach for William Floyd High School, are good friends, both men said.

“We were only rivals for two hours out of the year, when our teams were on the field,” Guadagnino said.

“Vic has done an amazing job getting the program to the next level,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence, who teaches physical education at Aquebogue and Phillips Avenue elementary schools, said he’s stayed in touch with a great many lacrosse alumni.

“The lacrosse community is like a family,” he said. “I know a lot of people say that about a lot of things, but this is really true about our program.”

Everyone he contacted was enthusiastic about participating in the game and organizers plan to make it an annual event and continue to raise funds for Briggs’ family.

The genuine affection Lawrence feels for his former students comes through as he speaks with pride about where life has taken them. Nearly all went on to college, several with lacrosse scholarships. Many have pursued careers in law enforcement and the military since college graduation. Lawrence names two dozen former players, reciting the honors they got playing for Riverhead, the names of the colleges they went to, honors won at college, and what careers they’ve pursued. He’s in touch with some of them by text or phone on a daily basis, he said.

“It’s a very tight-knit family,” he said.

Lawrence recalled how lacrosse players and alumni came together to support him during the most difficult thing any parent can endure: the February 2015 murder of his 17-year-old daughter Danielle and his ex-wife Tanya. They were shot in their Wading River home by Tanya Lawrence’s estranged boyfriend, who then turned the gun on himself. His younger daughter Brandy, then 14, was at home and witnessed the violence, but was able to escape physical injury.

The outpouring of love from his lacrosse family helped sustain him through those dark days, Lawrence said.

“So I can identify with what Dashan’s family is going through,” he said.

Alumni organized a fundraiser for their former coach. Guadagnino said when he heard about the fundraiser, he had T-shirts made and the team dedicated its season to Lawrence that year. That’s just how the lacrosse community is, he said.

Jayden Briggs tries on cleats presented to him by his father’s friend and teammate, Eric Gilliam. Courtesy photo: Tammy Hayon

Briggs’s wife Rebecca posted a message on Facebook expressing her appreciation to the lacrosse alumni for honoring her late husband. “And a special thanks to Tony Lawrence for reaching out to us. It was a great surprise to be presented with a beautiful plaque and the kind words they had for the Briggs Family! Jayden and Ava were also given custom cleats made by one of Dashan’s friends, Eric [Gilliam] that played in the game. It was a great day,” she wrote.

Lawrence called the support of the Riverhead community for the lacrosse program “really outstanding.”

Yesterday was the end-of-season event for the Riverhead PAL lacrosse program, which sponsored the alumni game.

“Between the youth and the alumni, we had lacrosse players on the fields covering a 20-year span,” Hayon said.

The booster club got a plaque for the Briggs family and trophies for MVPs Mitchell Jacobs (white team) and Alex Panagakos (blue team) donated by Port Jeff Sports, Hayon said.

She had blue and white pinnies, or practice jerseys, made with event name and Briggs’ number 14 on the front and individual numbers on the back. There was no number 14 jersey, Hayon said.

The Dashan J. Briggs Memorial Lacrosse Alumni Game, like the naming of Lewis Street, where Briggs grew up, in his honor, will help Briggs’ young children know their father, Lawrence said.

“When they get older and learn that there is an annual alumni game played in his memory and a street named in his honor, they will get to learn about the kind of man he was to be honored by his school and his community in those ways. They will know that their dad was a true hero,” Lawrence said.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.