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Help Defense - Chad Wiedmaier Feature
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Courtesy: Princeton Athletic Communications
Release: 04/27/2012

Fields Of Growth Equipment Drive At Princeton-Cornell Game

 

The green appears to be a little faded in the far background, as it heads from the top of the mountain into the valley.

In the foreground, the green is much sharper, darker, like a lushness after a long period of spring rain has ended.

Looking front to back, the green appears to go for miles, straight up and straight out, until only a hint of gray sky can be seen above.

The topography and color suggest Ireland, or possibly even Hawaii. In reality, this green is in neither place. 

No, this is the Central African nation of Uganda - or at least in a picture from Uganda.

Every place in the picture that the eye goes, it is met by one shade of green or another. Every place, that is, except for the very front, where there is a bright orange, with the words "Princeton Lacrosse" visible across the front of the tank top being worn by Chad Wiedmaier.

He wears grayish shorts and no shoes or socks. His left hand is on a cross beam, his right hand at his side, as he pauses and smiles at the camera. Then, presumably, it's back to work, back to construction, back to putting a roof over a family's head - and then off to the next family and the next roof.

It's a much different green  - an artificial one - that sits literally halfway around the world and figuratively about 100 worlds away. This green is on the campus of Harvard University, a place where only the luckiest of the lucky will get to study, to perform, or, in Wiedmaier's case on this day, compete.

The green below his feet now is in a video clip. He wears orange again, and again it says "Princeton" across the front. His formerly bare feet are wearing black cleats, and those black cleats are now flying down the far side of the field.

As he runs, he has his left hand on his lacrosse stick, his right hand in the air, directing teammate Derick Raabe down the middle. In seconds, he has gotten the ball from his own crease, across midfield and now into Raabe's stick. A second after that, it's in the back of the goal.

On Fields of Growth and fields of lacrosse, Chad Wiedmaier is making a huge difference. And the two are not unrelated.

"Chad Wiedmaier," says Sam Otoa, the Director of Games Administration for the Uganda Lacrosse Union, "is a very selfless person with a very big heart."

In the past 10 months, Wiedmaier has gone to Uganda for four weeks, come back to Princeton University to be a senior lacrosse captain - and to help a 10-year-old boy get through his mother's death - and once again shown himself to be one of the very best defenseman in college lacrosse.

"He's a wonderful human being," says Princeton coach Chris Bates. "He's different than the other guys. There's nothing wrong with being a Wall Street guy and taking that career path, but Chad has a different calling. He's a young man who understands the privilege he has and wants to give back."

Wiedmaier's trip to Uganda was with the organization Fields of Growth, run by former Notre Dame assistant coach Kevin Dugan. Fields of Growth has helped develop the sport of lacrosse in Uganda to the point where the country has been granted membership in the Federation of International Lacrosse and hopes to compete in the 2014 World Championships in Denver.

Beyond just the lacrosse, Fields of Growth is also committed to improving the educational and economic opportunities for the Ugandans. To that end, the organization has built schools, raised money and formulated a plan to bring sustainable economic independence to several villages.

"Chad has very high energy," Otoa says. "He did everything he could to communicate with the players, which was not an easy thing to do. His enthusiasm, friendly and open persona and patience made him very popular with the players and many people he met on his trip, on and off the field."

For Wiedmaier, the trip to Uganda was more than just a four-week pseudo vacation to a place he'd never been before.

It's had a profound effect on him, as a person, as a student, as an athlete. His outlook has been shaped by his experience with Fields of Growth, and it's given him a renewed sense of obligation, and of appreciation, for what he has here in the United States and at Princeton University.

Wiedmaier's final season in lacrosse has been extraordinary, even by the standards of a player who has been first-team All-Ivy League each of his first three seasons and who was the seventh pick in the 2012 Major League Lacrosse draft. Beyond that resume, he has upped his game to a new level as this season has gone on.

During the last few weeks, he has played as well as any player at any position in college lacrosse, and he has been the backbone of a defense that ranks third in Division I, allowing 6.7 goals per game.

He has played with ferocity, and he has been everywhere on the field. He is fifth in Division I in caused turnovers per game, and he has routinely wiped out the opposing team's top scorers.

"He's really evolved as a more compete defenseman," Bates says. "He's a great sliding defenseman. He gets a ton of ground balls. He's ultra-competitive, and his motor is always running. He's an exceptional cover defenseman. We're spoiled as a result. We always have confidence in his matchup. It's like having a great cover corner in football. It affects the rest of what we can do."

Watching Wiedmaier this season, it's easy to see his play as an extension of his experience last summer.

"It's hard to tell people how lucky you are, to go to a school like Princeton, to be on a team that a million people would want to be on, to play a sport for fun in such amazing venues," Wiedmaier says. "You can tell people and they can know it, but you need to see how the rest of the world is, to see what their life is, their daily life, that you have so many things that make your life so much easier, that you have so many opportunities that so many other people don't. It's made me come back and say that I'm not going to complain about anything for one second. It's given me a better perspective on things. I'm really lucky to be where I am. I will never feel entitled or arrogant."

What he saw in Uganda, and the people he met there, are never far from him now that he's back in Princeton.

"What has been special about Chad and his involvement is that it has been sustained and continuous," Dugan says. "He has stayed in touch with his friends in Uganda, and he has continued to support the program. Some volunteers get an initial rush from the service, and then they come home and it slowly fades. Chad has transcended that. I think in part it's a result of his social justice education at Delbarton and Princeton. It's in his blood."

Wiedmaier's trip to Division I lacrosse wasn't much different than that of so many others who came before him.

He was born in California and lived in Colorado until he was seven, and he moved to New Jersey when his parents got divorced. He was a hockey and football player as well as he grew up, but he can trace to second grade the game and position he now plays.

"There was a kid in my brother's grade, a year above me, and he had a long pole," Wiedmaier says. "He'd hold it straight up in the air and run down the field, holding it over his head. I thought that was so cool. I got a long pole after that. I never cut the shaft. I refused to cut it, even though it was way too big."

He attended Delbarton, the New Jersey lacrosse powerhouse that has produced so many great players, and he began to open eyes in his own right.

Eventually, his college choice came to Princeton or Georgetown, and he decided to follow Delbarton alums like Dan Cocoziello and Jack and Chris McBride to Princeton.

"Cocoziello was my idol," he says. "I remember watching him and thinking that I wanted to be able to play like him one day."

Wiedmaier became an immediate starter at with the Tigers, as well as a first-team All-Ivy and second-team All-America pick as a freshman, when Princeton reached as high as No. 1 in the polls. A fall knee injury cost him the first six games of the spring of his sophomore year, but he was still first-team All-Ivy and second-team All-America.

He was first-team All-Ivy and third-team All-America a year ago. Among the highlights of his Princeton career have been his head-to-head matchups with Cornell's two-time first-team All-America attackman Rob Pannell, last year's Division I Player of the Year.

"Chad is an incredibly talented defenseman, and all year I look forward to going against him," says Pannell, like Wiedmaier a finalist for the Lowe's Senior Class Award, which recognizes excellence in the "4 C's" of character, competition, classroom and community. "He is the best of the best at his position, and it has been a battle, but a pleasure, going up against him for the past three years. It makes it that much more fun and challenging when playing against a quick and strong defenseman of Chad's caliber.  It has also made the Princeton rivalry even more exciting for everyone with the matchup between Chad and me, and I'm sure that it has made that game more special for both of us as well. The games are always close, and you can usually count on Chad and I having some pretty important battles come the fourth quarter and final minutes."

The summer after his sophomore year, Wiedmaier spent a month in Costa Rica, and it left him wanting to see more of the world, especially in an area where he could make a difference.

Dugan had started the Fields of Growth initiative when he had been in Africa, and he brought some lacrosse sticks with him as a way of trying to make a connection. Wiedmaier saw the Fields of Growth advertisement on Inside Lacrosse, went through the selection process and headed off to Africa in July.

"I was really excited and a little nervous," he says. "I mean, I was going halfway around the world to somewhere I'd never been before. I went into it with no expectations. I was shocked to see how friendly everyone was. When I got off the plane, the first person I saw was a policeman with an AK47. I was a little intimidated by that, but he just waved to me and gave off a friendly vibe."

Through Dugan's original efforts - and those of other players who have made the same trip - lacrosse has grown at an amazing rate in the Uganda. At first, it might have seemed like a bizarre match.

"Outside soccer, rugby, basketball, boxing and athletics no other sport can claim to be popular in Uganda," Otoa says. "Lacrosse came in as a 'new' sport. Many people here are oblivious to the fact that lacrosse has a history of over 100 years. Youth between 15years-25years are attracted to the contemporary image lacrosse in Uganda portrays, and most lacrosse players are between these ages. It was easy to sell the essence of lacrosse to the public here because it is a team sport and it is very similar to popular sports here like soccer and basketball. Soccer is the overwhelming popular sport in Uganda. Many lacrosse players here have a soccer background. With 10 on-field payers, passing the ball, trying to shoot the ball into a goal, it is easy for many players to adapt to such an unheard of sport."

Lacrosse is less than two years old in the country. Already there are more than 300 players on five men's teams and two women's teams within the Uganda Lacrosse Union.

Fields of Growth has helped raise money and get donations of equipment, as well as train the officials and players. This was one of the roles that Wiedmaier filled last summer - and that current Tiger sophomore Tom Schreiber will pick up this summer.

"There were a lot of people who wanted to learn how to play," Wiedmaier says. "People would just show up every day. We had a group of about 40 guys who consistently would play every day. Now that they know that Uganda is in the lacrosse federation, they want to come to Colorado in 2014. They see it as a chance to travel and play a sport they love."

Wiedmaier, in his coaching role, had an immediate impact.

"Thre were some guys who were very decent and could handle the ball," he says. "They're so used to playing soccer, and their idea of how to play was to play like soccer. They'd find open space and throw the ball into it and run to the ball, rather than passing the ball to the person."

While Wiedmaier was there, the federation held something of a national championship with four teams. The team that Wiedmaier coached won.

"They all went nuts," Wiedmaier says. "The first day I was there, it was intimidating. There were some pretty big dudes. Some pretty strong athletes. All of the sudden, I'm their coach. I was wondering why they would listen to me, since they don't know who I am. They came up to me right away and said 'hey coach.' They took it seriously. I've coached so many clinics here where kids are half in and half out. These guys? They wanted to learn absolutely everything. They were so passionate about it."

To help grow the game, the Uganda Lacrosse Union worked on several promotions, including co-ed teams that play without checking and even beach lacrosse (Uganda is a landlocked country).

"The ULU program is just not a lacrosse program," Otoa says. "It has helped players congregate as a tight fraternity from the start which has provided a platform for friendships, learning and character development. This has attracted numerous individuals as it positioned lacrosse in Uganda as a holistic sport that supports athletes in other non-sport life skills, as opposed to other sports that don't necessarily go the extra mile to support their athletes."

The on-field coaching was only part of Wiedmaier's time in Uganda.

"We were helping out with Batwa Development Program," he says. "There's a group of people who have lived in the rain forest for thousands of years. They lived with themselves and nature. Then, because of poachers, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda expelled everyone from the rain forest. For the past 20 years, they've been squatting on land outside rain forest. We've tried to help them to keep their culture but also assimilate. The program finds a family that's the most needy. We built houses with our bare hands. We'd use mud, sticks, bamboo. The main advantage is tin roof. We were able to build a house in a day big enough for a family of six or seven."

And then there is the Princeton Project, which Wiedmaier has led in an effort to enable the locals to provide from themselves, rather than to rely on donations. As part of the effort, the villages would become economically viable, in this case by raising pigs and poultry and by growing pineapples.

As an extra benefit, the project also is an educational one for the school kids, who, by the way, have schools that were built in party by Wiedmaier himself.

"Despite his massive stature he surprisingly wasn't dominating and was very sensitive to the local environment," Otoa says. "He adapted well to the local environment but did not sacrifice his natural, overly enthusiastic and positive self. Many people here describe him as easy to get along with. "

After a month, it was back to the United States, though he has kept in touch on a regular basis with many of the people he met in Uganda.

Back at Princeton, he was ready to help the lacrosse team turn around last year's 4-8 record. He also found that the beloved wife of his coach was losing her battle with cancer, and that 10-year-old Nick Bates needed people to be there for him.

Wiedmaier, along with several other seniors, helped Nick through that time, before and after Ann Bates passed away on Nov. 30, 2011.

"He's been wonderful with my circumstance," says Chris Bates. "He puts his arm around Nick and takes care of him, and Nick knows he's looking after him. He's a great player, but he's an even better person. I couldn't be more proud of him. He's a member of the team, but he's also a friend, and I have a lot of respect for him."

Princeton has done more than turn around last season's struggles, as the Tigers are 9-3 and have clinched at least as share of the Ivy League championship heading into Saturday night's regular-season finale against Cornell and then the Ivy League and hopefully NCAA tournaments.

Wiedmaier is headed for more individual accomplishments - including the likelihood of being the first four-time first-team All-Ivy pick in Princeton history.

His days with lacrosse are not going to be finished when he graduates, or even when his MLL career ends. Wiedmaier's career goal? To be a Division I coach.

That coaching path figures to be much more traditional than the one he found in Uganda.

There are other pictures from Wiedmaier's trip, some that show the construction on the Hopeful School, part of the Princeton Project. One shows him as he celebrates with this joyous team, after they won the first national championship.

There's also one that shows him as he chomps into a sandwich that is dangling from branch, tied to a string. It's a contest, apparently, between him and a young boy, probably to see who can eat the sandwich fasted without using his hands or having it drop.

Behind him, there are only smiles, as a crowd of about 25-30 watches. Someone holds up a really young boy, probably 3 or 4, and he is smiling ear-to-ear. All the way in the back stands a very tall adult, with a smile to match that of the young children.

Next to Wiedmaier, his much smaller opponent looks up at his sandwich on the string and then, beyond that, to Weidmaier. Because of the way he is straining up to get to the bread, Wiedmaier's neck and shoulders bulge out from the blue tank top he wears. He is ripped. To his young opponent, Wiedmaier must look like a giant.

A giant, that is, who made this long trip to his country - a trip that almost nobody who has ever attended schools like Princeton or Delbarton ever will - to help in any way he could, and as it turned out, there were all kinds of ways in which he did.

And how is it possible to sum up the impact that he had there? Beyond lacrosse, obviously.

Well, there is this picture, the one with the sandwich game, the one with the young opponent, who is half trying to chomp on the bread and half looking up in awe at the giant, looking at a person who gave so much of himself, all in the name of simply helping out.

That little boy can live to be a hundred years old.


He'll never forget Chad Wiedmaier.

- By Jerry Price

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