Yeardley Love's legacy lives on
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia does not have a motto. But inscribed on a gate near campus landmark "The Corner" are words from a letter to university founder, Thomas Jefferson, which he hoped the school's attendees would adhere to: "Here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
One year after the tragic death of fourth-year student and lacrosse team member Yeardley Love -- allegedly at the hands of former boyfriend and fellow lacrosse player George Huguely -- the UVa community has tried to learn from her senseless passing, while also encouraging students to explore the deeper and sometimes difficult truths of one another.
Both the men's and women's lacrosse teams have endured seasons of change. Several days ago, the 10th-ranked men's lacrosse team announced the dismissal of star senior Shamel Bratton and the indefinite suspension of his twin brother, Rhamel. Coach Dom Starsia didn't publicly state the specific reasons for either, noting only that there was a "violation of team rules" and a "failure to meet standards of behavior."
The men began the season as the nation's top-ranked team but have since fallen, losing in the semifinals of the ACC tournament in late April. Though the Hoos are led by a senior class that was labeled "the best recruiting class ever" in a 2007 Inside Lacrosse Magazine cover story, they've struggled to come together, a problem that one former player attributes in part to the off-field issues of the past year.
Only a year ago, the men won the ACC championship and earned the top seed heading into the 2010 NCAA tournament. Many thought the Cavaliers, who'd lost only once all season, were the strongest contenders for the national title. Huguely, a senior midfielder, had played in all 15 of the Cavaliers' regular-season games, contributing four goals and three assists.
The women's lacrosse team had lost to Maryland in the semifinals of the 2010 ACC tournament before beginning preparations for the NCAA tournament. Love, a senior defender, had played in all 15 of UVa's games, starting three.
Then on May 3, 2010, Love was found dead in her apartment. Huguely was arrested and charged with murder after admitting to physically assaulting Love that night.
Several days after Love's death, UVa athletic director Craig Littlepage announced that despite the circumstances, both lacrosse teams would compete in the NCAA tournament.
With Love's mother, Sharon, and sister, Lexie, present amid a home crowd of 2,270 attendees, the women played an emotional first-round game and won. They were defeated in the quarterfinals the following week, ending their season. The men advanced as far as the semifinals before losing to Duke. Both UVa teams wore remembrances for Love throughout the tournament, carrying her memory with them.
In June, Love posthumously received her degree. Huguely sat in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he has remained in private custody for the past year.
On April 18, a Charlottesville grand jury handed down indictments charging Huguely with first-degree murder, felony murder, robbery, burglary, statutory burglary and grand larceny. His trial is set for February 2012, when more questions will likely be answered in searching for the truth of that terrible evening.
The women's team retired Love's jersey in early March on a rain-filled Sunday afternoon. They have a young team this year, with only four seniors among their 33 players, and have struggled at times in compiling their 9-8 record.
Both lacrosse teams have tried to cope and move forward privately and released a joint statement in January explaining that they would not comment on matters related to Love's death or Huguely's trial. The statement read, in part:
"Some members of the media have expressed a desire to interview us about what we have experienced during the last nine months As we move forward and out of respect for the ongoing legal process, we do not feel it is appropriate for us to answer those kinds of questions."
The university, meanwhile, has worked to learn from the tragedy while encouraging its population to be more vigilant against domestic violence.
Students arrived in August to a tighter enforcement of a 2004 rule stating that they must report any prior arrests or convictions in writing to the university. (Huguely had previously been arrested in 2008 but had never reported it to the school.) Anyone caught lying about an arrest would be found guilty of breaking the university's strict honor code, risking expulsion.
In late September, new UVa president Teresa A. Sullivan helped lead the university's "Day of Dialogue," during which students and faculty exchanged ideas about the best ways to combat violence, prejudice and bias. The Day of Dialogue was followed up this spring by a similar "Dialogue Across UVA" initiative.
The Dialogue focus was the brainchild of "Let's Get Grounded," a student-run group focused on changing behaviors by encouraging students, faculty and staff to recognize issues concerning safety and violence. The group offered training throughout the year to more than 1,200 students and faculty, instructing them on bystander behavior and intervention.
"We've seen a bit of an uptick in reports of issues of dating violence," says associate dean of students Nicole Eramo. "I've talked to more students this year who've said 'I have this issue, is this a normal or a controlling relationship?' so hopefully something good can come out of what happened last year."
Yet some members of the student body, while supportive, also acknowledge that campus-wide initiatives have limited impact.
"It's good that the university has been very proactive with addressing a lot of the serious issues that this incident brought up, but a lot of it comes down to personally dealing with it in groups of students," third-year student Lucas Tyler says. "Ultimately, it's got to be the students themselves being more proactive."
This past summer, several of Love's close friends and family members began the One Love Foundation. Love's cousin, Sharon Robinson, says the idea came about almost immediately after Love's death, when Sharon and Lexie decided that donations in Yeardley's memory should go to the trio's former high school, Notre Dame Preparatory School, or toward UVa-related causes.
"It became clear by June that this was bigger than we thought," Robinson says. "Yeardley was so giving of herself to others, so we thought, 'Let's start a foundation to keep her spirit alive.'"
The Foundation was incorporated by late June and states its mission as: "to encourage and develop in children and young adults four qualities that Yeardley exemplified service, kindness, humility and sportsmanship that together add up to One Love."
Directly and indirectly, the One Love Foundation has organized and sponsored initiatives throughout the year: runners, including participating in road races as part of the "Every Yard for Yeardley" campaign to raise funds for a turf field being built at Notre Dame Prep in Love's name; a recent fundraising tennis tournament on UVa's campus; hosting "One Love" lacrosse games around the country to raise funds and awareness. The outpouring of support, Robinson says, has been almost overwhelming at times, a tribute to Love's giving spirit.
Notre Dame Prep and the One Love Foundation are continuing to raise funds toward the turf field and have now collected more than two-thirds of the $1.2 million goal. Notre Dame Prep announced last week that it continues to honor Love with several projects, including the awarding of the first Yeardley Reynolds Love scholarship (a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to NDP) to a local eighth-grader.
Today, students on Notre Dame Prep's campus will wear Love T-shirts as the women's lacrosse team wears her jersey number (1). Students will begin the day with a special prayer for Love and are asked to "pay a kindness forward" in honor of the 2006 alumna.
Robinson says their family, close friends and several of Yeardley's former teammates will gather today, enjoying Yeardley's favorite foods while sharing their stories and memories.
Robinson notes how "remarkable" it has been that "some people who didn't even know Yeardley, but are just inspired" have approached the foundation with ideas for remembrances and fundraisers. Another testament of support has been the "In Memory of Yeardley Love" Facebook page, which has more than78,000 fans. Strangers and friends leave messages almost daily, describing local lacrosse games played in honor of Love or the wearing of a One Love bracelet or T-shirt. Victims of domestic violence and abuse also speak out, perhaps hoping to help those still victimized.
"I think about Yeardley often, even though I did not know her personally," an April 14th message reads, continuing: "I was in a similar situation and was lucky to survive. I will never understand how things this horrible can happen to such amazing people -- but I will do everything I can to keep fighting against relationship violence."
A determination that has reverberated throughout Love's many communities and supporters over the last year, and will continue through the seasons and semesters that lie ahead. In this and many ways, Love won't be forgotten.
Anna K. Clemmons is a writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.For more coverage of college sports, follow us on Twitter (@ESPNUcom) and check us out on Facebook (search: ESPNU.com).