Playing It Forward Washington and Lee seniors David Onyejekwe ’23, Jake McCabe ’23 and Bailey Keel ’23 have created lasting connections with the local community as volunteer coaches for Lex Lax youth lacrosse.
Spring Term at Washington and Lee is a time full of fond farewells as graduating seniors transition into their next steps after Commencement. For W&L seniors David Onyejekwe ’23, Jake McCabe ’23 and Bailey Keel ’23, part of that process has been to say goodbye to a very special group of friends made during their time on campus.
The three friends have served together as volunteer Lex Lax coaches for the last two years; Onyejekwe and McCabe have been volunteering with the organization for three years. The program supports teams for six age groups: 14 and under, 11 and under, and 9 and under for girls; and 14 and under, 12 and under, and 10 and under for boys. Home games are played at Brewbaker Field in Lexington, with away games taking the teams to Roanoke, Lynchburg and other larger metropolitan areas in the region.
Keel, McCabe and Onyejekwe recently wrapped up their season with the 12 and under teams, many of whom they have coached for multiple years. Keel, an offensive lineman for W&L’s football team, said ending his time with the team is bittersweet.
“Aside from football, this is my favorite thing I’ve been a part of during my time on campus,” Keel said.
Onyejekwe and McCabe first found out about the opportunity to volunteer for Lex Lax through John Jensen ’01, executive director of alumni and career services and a Lex Lax parent, who knew both students through his work with W&L’s Real Estate Society and through their involvement with the career and professional development office on career preparation and advisement. They recruited Keel to join them for their second year as 12U coaches. All three had high school lacrosse experience and were excited by the opportunity to revisit the sport.
Jensen said Lex Lax is one of many great opportunities for W&L students to interact with the community.
“W&L has a long-standing tradition of its students volunteering in the community through organizations such as Campus Kitchen, the Shepherd program, partnerships through Community-Based Learning and others,” Jensen said. “My family has benefited greatly from W&L students teaching or coaching my children; many keep in touch as alumni.”
Keel said that he has talked with McCabe and Onyejekwe about the fact that their five-year class reunion will coincide with the senior year of high school for many of their current 12U lacrosse players, and that if any of the team members continue to play lacrosse, the three would love to return to Lexington and attend one of their final games.
Lex Lax board president and parent Mindy Laubscher said the students’ dedication and commitment to the organization is admirable.
“The thing that impressed me the most was that not only did they show up at practice twice a week, but they also showed up in Roanoke, Blacksburg, Lynchburg — anywhere we had a game — at nine o’clock in the morning on Saturdays,” Laubscher said. “They really prioritized it.”
The three students were also instrumental in organizing a successful fundraiser for Lex Lax in conjunction with a local barbecue caterer. By coordinating with four of W&L’s fraternities to purchase meals from the fundraiser, they doubled the typical proceeds of the event. McCabe, Keel and Onyejekwe are affiliated with W&L’s Kappa Alpha fraternity. All the equipment used in Lex Lax’s practice and games are free for players, making fundraisers and donations a critical component of keeping participation accessible for families.
Keel said the coaching experience was something that he, McCabe and Onyejekwe looked forward to each week.
“I guess it was technically volunteer work, but it really didn’t feel like it,” Keel said. “It’s grounding to get to go out there and hang out with the kids — it puts things into perspective. There’s a lot to learn from them. It’s also just fun. The Saturday games were some of the best times that I’ve had at W&L. At a certain point, you’re not coaching too much; you’re more on the sidelines just cheering and going crazy with everyone when we score a goal. We’ve built their skills and made sure they know how to play, and now we just want them to get out there and enjoy being a lacrosse player.”
McCabe, an economics major, and Keel, a business administration and environmental studies major, will both be working in real estate after graduation. Onyejekwe, a biochemistry major, will be taking a gap year to work in a hospital near his hometown of Falls Church, Virginia, while applying to medical school.
Mat Rapoza ’03, assistant football coach at W&L and a Lex Lax parent, said that he was impressed that the three seniors spent the morning of Fancy Dress at a tournament in Roanoke with their team, racing back to Lexington in time to prepare for the evening’s festivities. He added that their dedication to the team will be missed next year.
“It just speaks to how selfless they’ve been,” Rapoza said. “I am extremely excited that they were my son’s coaches. I think their enthusiasm has him hooked on lacrosse.”