Aspen Lacrosse Club launches new equipment program in Goerne’s name

Thin and usually freshly shaven, Michael Goerne never looked like Santa Clause. But if the lacrosse world ever had a St. Nick, those who knew him would say Goerne’s generous spirit would have made him the likeliest of candidates.

“They always talk in our sport about being a good ambassador to the game, and Mike was always the quintessential ambassador to lacrosse in the valley,” Graham McMahon said. “If a kid didn’t have something that he needed to play, Mike would go procure it for him, whether that was from his own stash of sticks and gear or it was from DICK’s Sporting Goods. He would go get some kid something new he could play with.”

McMahon and Meredith Elwell co-direct the Aspen Lacrosse Club, the same club Goerne created in 2006. McMahon took over the role after Goerne and fellow area lacrosse coach Owen Green died in a backcountry avalanche on Feb. 16, 2019, while training for the Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race.

A year later and the club has recently launched a new program called “Goerne Grows the Game” that seeks to gift young lacrosse players in the Roaring Fork Valley a new set of gear to get them going in the sport. The “G3 Gift” is a way for the club to keep Goerne’s spirit and love for the game ever present.

“It was nice we kind of took our time and really felt our way around our emotions and our feelings and our memories. Where we landed, I think, really resonated Mike’s spirit,” Elwell said of finding a way to honor Goerne. “The mission of it is to make it as easy as possible for kids to fall in love with the game of lacrosse and make it as easy for them to share in the passion and commitment that Mike had growing the game.”

Goerne came from Edina, Minnesota, and went on to play NCAA Division I lacrosse at Marist College in New York, graduating in 2004 with a degree in business administration and finance. Soon after he moved to Carbondale and became the driving force for the growth of lacrosse in the valley.

Not only did he start the Aspen Lacrosse Club, where he was co-director alongside Elwell until his death, but he helped launch the Aspen High School boys lacrosse program, as well. He was the Skiers’ head coach through the 2015 season, when they won the program’s lone state championship.

“Mike’s mother and his sister and his family gave this initiative their blessing and are wanting to support it. They are right in the mix with us,” Elwell said. “The real launching pad in terms of funding was directly from Mike’s memorial. So these first gift recipients really are extra special to the whole project.”

The idea is to give kids in kindergarten and first grade, or anyone new to the Aspen Lacrosse Club, all they need to start playing the sport. For the boys, their gift package includes a helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves and a regulation-sized stick. The girls, who don’t play in all the padding, receive a stick and goggles. Kids that age don’t need cleats and can play in basic tennis shoes.

Elwell and McMahon began handing out the starter kits during the recent shutdown caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, a time when most kids were stuck at home and desperate for something new. The spring is the busiest time of year for the local lacrosse scene, which also came to a standstill because of COVID-19.

“It’s kind of overwhelming when you start a new sport as a parent with these little guys and girls. What equipment do we get? Goggles, sticks, pads, helmet — there are a lot of pieces,” Elwell said. “The second that package arrives on their door, boom, they can just become a lacrosse player. That’s the spirit behind it and the goal.”

Elwell said the club gets about 20 newcomers each year and the hope is to be able to gift each one of them with one of these kits in coming years. This spring, McMahon handed out 12 sets to the boys and Elwell seven more to the girls. They had the kids submit photos of them wearing their new gear.

Continued fundraising will be needed to keep the program alive.

“Mike would approve of the program that bears his name,” McMahon said. “He was always great about getting kids involved and this is the perfect way to kind of carry that torch for him, because I know he would still be giving kids sticks and gear and trying to get as many kids on the field as possible because it’s a game we all love.”

The Aspen Lacrosse Club had to cancel its spring season — much as the high school’s season was called off because of the coronavirus — but hopes it can put on some sort of programming this summer, which is usually a quiet period for the club. With both Pitkin County and Eagle County — home to Crown Mountain Park, the club’s main hub — easing restrictions, McMahon believes they’ll be able to make the most of the situation over the new few months.

“Whatever form lacrosse takes this summer, it’s going to look different for sure. But we want to make sure it’s safe before we bring anybody onto the field and bring kids together,” McMahon said. “It’s still kind of a holding pattern, but I think we have a set of protocols coming from both our local governing body and our U.S. Lacrosse governing body as well, so hopefully that can start to mold something we can work with.”