By Jay Cook |
FAIR HAVEN – To his friends, Pierce Jarck was as big a lacrosse fanatic as there was. When he wasn’t practicing for his club or high school team, he took time to share his passion and teach the basics to his closest buds.
“When I think of Pierce, the first thing that comes to my mind is lacrosse,” said Alex Maldjian, a 17-year-old Rumson resident. “He was all about it and all for it.”
That passion for the game is also how an entire high school community will remember Peter “Pierce” Jarck, a 16-year-old Rumson resident who took his own life on Oct. 15, 2017.
Neighboring peninsula high school communities rallied for the inaugural Ridge Road Run in April and raised more than $120,000 for mental health awareness and funding for the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County and the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
But a group of Jarck’s closest friends decided to band together and take awareness for mental health issues a step further.
Just last week, Maldjian and seven other Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) juniors officially kicked off fundraising for Long Live Lax, a nonprofit charity aiming to raise $50,000 to fund the construction of a multipurpose athletic wall. (“Lax” is an abbreviation for lacrosse.) The concrete wall would be 30-feet wide by 12-feet tall and be situated next to the tennis courts at Fair Haven Fields. Practicing throws against a wall is a technique Jarck used to improve his game.
“This whole process of actually putting up the wall is definitely a healing process for us,” said 17-year-old Rumson resident Jamie Goodwyn. “I don’t want to say it’s closure or anything like that, but it’s definitely made us more comfortable talking about suicide, talking about Pierce, talking about what he loved to do and what he loved as a person.”
The boys want to make something clear: The wall is by no means a memorial. “It’s very important that we don’t glorify the situation,” said James Hempstead, a 17-year-old from Rumson. “It’s not a memorial for him, but for us, it will always be there.”
Instead, it’s a symbol of who Pierce was as an athlete and as a friend, according to Michael Lizotte, a 17-year-old Rumson native.
“Not only will you see it, but you’ll be able to utilize it and that’s what we’re so excited about,” Lizotte said. “We’ll have the opportunity to tie in lacrosse, which was important to Pierce and also this community in particular, and mental health. It’s the perfect scenario.”
Although planning and fundraising for the wall is in the preliminary stages, there’s already support for the cause. The group has been in contact with Fair Haven’s recreation department, which is aware of their plans. A multipurpose wall at Fair Haven Fields was discussed in recent years before the new tennis courts were finished last spring, but plans fell through.
“I think it’s great,” said Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli. “These kids are showing some really fine leadership and they’re getting a good civics lesson while they’re at it.”
The young men also hope to expand mental health awareness and education through this project. They noted mental health education wasn’t part of their curriculum until well into high school. They believe tackling the stigma surrounding mental health issues should begin well before that.
Jarck also isn’t the only friend on their minds. Just a few years ago, RFH Class of 2015’s Jack Moore tragically took his own life. He was also a devout lacrosse player who was passionate about the game.
“First of all, I think there needs to be suicide awareness in our community,” said Ethan Ardolino, a 17-year-old from Fair Haven. “It doesn’t necessarily have to start with young kids at a park, however I think being more comfortable with the words and the situation would be great for the community.”
Although it’s still early in the game, the boys hope to ramp up fundraising efforts as the summer rolls in. A combination of social media and old-fashioned flyers around town have been their biggest drivers so far.
Some have heard from former RFH alumni and others are already taking donations from students in neighboring towns who support the cause. They’ve even talked about bringing in RFH grads from years past to play in a possible benefit game at Fair Haven Fields.
But beneath it all is an effort to protect those who need it the most.
“Even if there’s one kid who’s dealing with it, who goes and talks to someone, then all of this is worth it,” said Maldjian. “One of our friends’ lives completely changed our lives forever. To save every life that they might have touched would be incredible.”
Learn more about the effort at LongLiveLax.org.
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The Trevor Project
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Mental Health Association of Monmouth County
Advocacy and services to families in Monmouth County and identifying gaps in the mental health system of care in collaboration with community, county, and state partners to close those gaps.
This article was first published in the June 14-June 21, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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