“There is no I in team.” – The quote shared by Welles Crowther in his high school yearbook
Welles Remy Crowther was a 24 year old Boston College graduate who was known for always carrying a red bandana in his back pocket. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Crowther, who worked at the World Trade Center, tied his bandana around his face to shield himself from smoke and debris as he courageously led wounded people to safety, and then kept going back upstairs so he could rescue others. During his selfless acts of heroism, Crowther lost his life, and was in fact identified by his signature red bandana. ESPN featured a moving video tribute to the hero who hailed from Nyack, New York entitled Man in the Red Bandana. In the beginning of the video, a powerful question is asked: “What would you do in the last hour of your life?”
Since that fateful day, people have honored the legacy of Welles Crowther, who played Division I lacrosse when he studied at Boston College. The Red Bandanna Project was established to provide “curricula and lessons for character development, social and emotional learning for young people.” According to the Red Bandanna Project’s website, “These lessons have been inspired by the example and spirit of Welles Remy Crowther.”
Tom and Nicole DeMaio, who were born and raised in Boston, along with their six children, moved to Coronado six years ago. Lacrosse has always been a passion for the entire DeMaio family, and even though they love living in California, their ties to the east coast as well as their recollections of that day remain strong. A lacrosse coach at Santa Fe Christian, Tom wanted to honor the memory of Welles, and ensure that players, including his sons Anthony and Nicholas, would continue to carry on the selfless spirit that Welles embodied.
Tom was selected to coach a U-19 lacrosse squad in this year’s Vail Lacrosse Shootout in Colorado. Anthony, who just graduated from Coronado High School, and Nicholas, who will start his junior year, were both on the team, making this coaching experience even more special for the family. The squad, named the Red Bandanas in honor of Welles, consisted of players hand-chosen from all over the country. For many of these top-ranked athletes, this was their first time meeting one another. The team quickly bonded, and were determined to win for Welles. On June 29, 2016, as if it was right out of a movie, the Red Bandanas won the tournament in a double overtime!
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom, Anthony, and Nicholas to ask them about their experience in the Vail Lacrosse Shootout as well as to ask them about their future plans.
Tell me about what it meant to you to play in the Vail Shootout, where you kept Welles Crowther’s legacy alive by naming your squad the Red Bandanas.
“It was a pretty cool experience. The team was really nice, and we bonded well. Getting to know some of the players who I had never met before was really cool.”
“We watched a documentary on Welles when we had a team dinner, and everyone felt emotional. It made us bond. Knowing we were playing for him was exciting.”
“I thought it was great because the story of Welles goes back before a lot of these 19 year old [and under] kids were really impacted. To be able to bring his story not only to the younger generation, but to kids from all over the country (ten different states), and remind them of what happened in 2001, which impacted a lot of the parents’ and coaches’ lives, was really meaningful. With the 15th anniversary approaching, it was especially important. We also played for some other victims, and had some kids on the team who had dads who were in the [World] Trade Center as well or were from that east coast region so that was pretty special.”
“The tournament was in Colorado, but just being able to bring everyone in together and being with east coast parents was something. The coaching staff all grew up in the same era, and were impacted on 9/11 so for the coaching staff it was just as special as it was for the kids and the parents as well.”
Tell me about what it was like winning in the second overtime.
“Winning in the second overtime was pretty cool obviously. When Jeremy Magno scored the game winning goal, it was pretty awesome, and we all threw our stuff. It was really stressful every time the other team would take a shot. They actually hit the post in overtime. Every time that happened, my heart would drop. It was really cool to just finally get that relief back. It was a cool experience.”
“Through playing for two days, and we finally win in double overtime, it felt really good! That whole game was exciting so it was just an exciting time.”
“It’s one of those events that’s extremely difficult to win. You have to have really the best players in the country. It’s like the national championship of club lacrosse for kids that age. All these kids are going to play high-level lacrosse in college so to win in that fashion, in that stage, was really fun.”
“It was a really good team that we beat, and they were from Colorado so they were altitude adjusted. We were down 9-4 at one point so to come back and win in such a high-scoring game was exciting.”
Tell me about your lacrosse team, the Red Bandanas.
“So this is really a first-time team. Over the years, one of the things we’ve always tried to do with teams we put together is have it be for something bigger than just the game of lacrosse, and have it be for something else. This was an opportunity that the kids and myself got together on, and said, ‘This is a cause; it’s something we want to play for.’ This was a first-time event that we did this particular team with all new kids and all high-level kids from all over the country. It was a special team to begin with, and to finish that way made it even more special.”
“I hand picked a handful [of the players], and I let a few of the players hand pick a handful of players as well. That way you made sure you were getting a high-quality character kid and family, and that you get high-level players too.” (To see the roster, see additional information at the conclusion of this article.)
“There was a lot that went into this particular team. To be able to get a handful of the top players in the country took a coordinated effort with someone who Anthony had played with years back in the Vail tournament at a younger age, one of his friends named Josh Gully. Josh is going to play at Cornell University. That friendship and the bond that they made years back on a middle school team in Vail sort of came back, and was a big part of putting this team together.”
Tell me about reaching out to Welles Crowther’s family during the Vail Lacrosse Shootout.
“The family was not there, but we were in constant contact with the Crowther family, updating them on the event. It was great how the Crowther family immediately embraced what we had come up with, and were very supportive throughout the whole process, how they wished the team luck all the way around. I think the quote that Welles’ mother Allison Crowther made at the end of the tournament was that Welles was an angel on our shoulders. I think that’s how we really felt as the game got stressful, and things didn’t go right at times; we had a lot of close calls. When I look back on that quote, it was very, very, very accurate.”
“We’re making plans to meet up with them at the Red Bandana Run in Boston. They hold it at Boston College every year. We’ll present Welles’ jersey to them.” (This year’s Red Bandana Run will be held on October 15, 2016.)
“I think in a couple of games too I felt like what Allison said was true. On the first day of the tournament we beat them by one with seven seconds left. It was a shot that was somehow deflected, and went in.”
Tom, do you plan on coaching the Red Bandanas next year?
“Yes, for that particular tournament we’re planning on bringing that team back to that tournament with a new set of kids but with the same philosophy of an east coast/west coast mix from various states, playing for Welles once again or some of the other victims of September 11th.” (Anthony will be ineligible to play next year, but Nicholas will be eligible to play still. Tom jokingly raises his eyebrows as he looks at Nicholas, and says Nicholas will “maybe” make next year’s team.)
Now that you’ve graduated from CHS, what are your plans for next year, Anthony?
“I’m going to the Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, and then I’m going to Boston University the next year so basically kind of like a postgraduate year after high school. The plan is that Nicholas will go to Boston University in two years, and then we will be able to play lacrosse together in college.”
“I’ll probably study business or kinesiology with sports medicine.”
Anthony and Nicholas, what’s it going to mean to you to be able to play lacrosse together at Boston University?
“In high school, it was a really fun time. We scored a lot, and had a fun time playing together. I hope it’s the same, where we play like we did in high school, and we do well.”
“We always just know where we are on the field. That’s always good to have! We can just figure it out in the huddle before the play and stuff like that.”
Tom, what do you like best about coaching your sons?
(A hearty laugh from Tom, Anthony, and Nicholas ensued before Tom answered.) “We’ve had a lot of special moments over the years starting when they were young, whether they were hockey, lacrosse, or football. I’ve coached them in a few different sports. Over the years, it’s been fun to watch them mature, and see how they respond to coaching. It certainly has its moments where you have to challenge yourself and challenge them, but it’s been a fun ride.”
Anthony and Nicholas, what do you like best about having your Dad as your coach?
“He’s a very good coach so whenever I do something wrong, he’ll yell at me, and I’ll fight him on it, but then I do it, and it works so I think maybe I should listen to him more.” (More laughter can be heard from Tom!)
“It’s always been pretty cool, especially getting coached in hockey, and then over to the lacrosse field. He’s taught me life values and stuff like that through sports.”
Tom smiles as he talks about how his sons and all four daughters love playing lacrosse just as much as he does. He’s especially proud of the fact that Anthony earned the impressive title of California state record holder for total points in high school lacrosse, scoring 390 points while he played at Coronado High School. (Nicholas is adamant that he’s going to break his big brother’s record while he finishes his last two years at CHS, but Anthony shakes his head as he says, “No way!” The whole family erupts into laughter.)
It’s more than evident watching the interactions between Tom and both of his sons that he is proud of their accomplishments both on and off the lacrosse field. Anthony and Nicholas are equally just as proud of their father, who has been a tremendous influence in their own lives as well as so many of their friends’ lives throughout the years. They’ve worked so hard together, but it’s apparent that they genuinely enjoy being together in any setting. While they never had the pleasure of meeting the Man in the Red Bandana, it’s easy to imagine that Welles Crowther would be honored that the DeMaio family continues to honor his legacy and continues to love his favorite sport.