by Dave Franklin | MCLA.us
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Boston College plays its last regular season game on Sunday afternoon against Northeastern, and it will be a big one.
Not because it’s Senior Day. Not because it's a battle between two crosstown rivals. Not because a bid to the CLC tournament could hang in the balance.
It’s a big one because it is "The Red Bandanna Game," which carries a lot of extra significance.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 2,996 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Of the 2,996 was a former Boston College lacrosse player, Welles Crowther. However, if not for Crowther, the death toll would have been considerably higher.
The story has been told many times over the last eight years or so. A well-to-do, beloved, athletic boy from Nyack, N.Y., goes to BC to play lacrosse and graduates into the world of finance in Manhattan.
However, this young man named Welles, who was known for always carrying his father's red bandanna, wanted to chase his childhood dreams of becoming a fireman. When his office in the World Trade Center was attacked, Welles' final hours were spent saving approximately 18 lives until the buildings collapsed with him still inside
It was not until newspaper stories surfaced with survivors saying, "I was saved by the man in the red bandanna," that anyone knew what happened to Welles Crowther.
“Welles' story not only embodies BC lacrosse, but it’s really what Boston College is about," said third-year coach Louie Dedonatis. "Right before I took the job here, I went to the Red Bandanna Night football game against Clemson here in Chestnut Hill and that was the first time I ever heard his story.
"Then I was hired in January and I had the privilege of coming in and giving Welles' number 19 to senior defenseman Jack Galiardo. Jack represented everything the number 19 in our program stands for. He was a totally selfless team first guy who always put others before himself.”
Meant for the player on the team who best exemplifies leadership and courage, the number 19 does not have to go to a senior, but as of recent, seniors have been easy candidates to target, especially from a leadership perspective.
In 2018, it went to backup goalie, John Carroll who was in the ROTC program at BC and joined the army after graduation. This year, it was decided that senior defensive midfielder Declan Ryan would wear Welles' 19 Jersey in 2019.
However, the way Declan Ryan came to learn this was a bit untraditional.
"We were in Athens [Ga.] for the opening weekend of the season to play South Carolina and UGA,” said Ryan. “We were warming up before playing SC and I'm wearing my regular 26 jersey, not expecting anything.”
“John Carroll was based in Fort Benning, Georgia and I was hoping we could have done this the night before the game in the hotel, but unfortunately John wasn't around,” said DeDonatis. “Instead, John came to the game and presented the 19 jersey to Declan right before the contest started. Declan took off his 26 and threw on 19. It was a really special moment to facilitate the passing down of the number from one 19 to the next.”
Said Ryan: "Learning about Welles and embracing his legacy has been a big part of my Boston College lacrosse experience. To represent a person who gave up their life for others and was known for being a such great friend and teammate means a lot to me and I am very grateful for the honor."
When BC plays Northeastern on Sunday, it will be the first Red Bandanna game that Welles' parents, Alison and Jefferson won't be in attendance. Jefferson died on Feb. 13 after a long illness.
"He was just the nicest and sweetest man, so caring and passionate," said Ryan.
Assistant Coach Joseph Volk got the news before it hit social media and sent a group message to the team. Volk, a 2015 BC grad, is actually the reason there was no 19 his senior year.
"Volk was the easy front runner to wear Welles' jersey when I was a junior," recalled John Gosstola, a two-time All-American midfielder from BC's class of 2016. "However, Volk had a childhood friend who played at St. Lawrence pass away around the same time and he chose to wear 1 instead of 19 to pay tribute to his buddy."
“I wish I got the message about Mr. Crowther from Joe, but found out about Jeff like most people on Twitter,” said Gosstola. “I must have met Welles' parents about eight times over the course of my BC career. They are the nicest people. As Declan said, Jeff was just such a kind, sweet guy. Welles is a reflection of his parents in every way and the whole family really embodies the Jesuit motto: ‘Men and women for others.’"
"Coach Volk has pretty much been a coach on this staff ever since he graduated,” said DeDonatis. “He's BC lacrosse through and through and I think it was very fitting for us to hear of Mr. Crowther's passing through him.
“Any time I ever spoke to Mr. Crowther he always referred to Welles as his best friend. While I was obviously sad for Mr. Crowther's wife, his daughters and so many others, I also realized that Jefferson was now reunited with his best friend in paradise and for me that was pretty special – to know they’re both in a much better place."
Harry Anscher, a BC Lacrosse alumnus from the 2012 class is currently the captain of the Rabbits Lacrosse Club in New York City and a current teammate of John Gosstola's.
Gostolla grew up in Delmar, about two hours away from Nyack and Anscher grew up in a Long Island town 45 miles south of the Crowthers. They both went to BC, they both play lacrosse and they both work in finance, just like Welles.
"I really learned about Welles my sophomore year when Patrick McCavanagh became coach," said Anscher. "It was important to him to really build Welles' legacy into the culture of BC men's lacrosse and the very next year, in 2011, ESPN did a piece on Welles to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the attacks.
“That's when it seems like the story I was just introduced too took on a more national presence and it definitely meant something to go to the same school, take the same classes and play on the same team as a guy who really cared about the community around him and sacrificed himself for others."
Anscher wears number 19 for the Rabbits and has a job that is very similar to the position Welles held.
"At the end of the day, Welles is someone I look up to and strive to be like,” said Anscher. “As it relates to Mr. Crowther, he will be sorely missed. It's really incredible when you meet someone with such a positive attitude about life despite what he and his family went through. In many respects, he was really an inspiration, just like his son.”
"Working in finance, playing lacrosse in Manhattan, I find myself thinking about Welles quite a bit," said Gosstola. "I go down to the memorial, I visit his name at plaque S-50, I stand there, I reflect, and before long people are coming up to me asking if and how I knew Welles. In day to day life, when something disruptive happens, it's frustrating, but it's easy to keep things in perspective after you've met the Crowthers."
Welles Crowther is not the greatest lacrosse player to ever live, but he might be the greatest human being to have every picked up a stick. However…
"Nobody can every write enough stories about Welles Crowther," said Anscher.