Commentary

Collins finds outlet in lacrosse

Updated: April 30, 2009, 2:28 PM ET
By Chris R. Vaccaro | Special to ESPNRISE.com

Life hasn't been easy for Eddie Collins.

Eddie Collins
Chris VaccaroEddie Collins has persevered through a tough childhood.

Born in Long Beach, N.Y., an area of Long Island known for its beaches, Collins has battled through more adversity than the average island adolescent.

The son of a convicted felon, Collins' life has been shadowed by domestic disturbance since an early age. His father, Edward Collins, has spent much of Eddie's life in and out of jail. Edward was sentenced last week to three years in prison due to a weapons charge.

Through it all, Eddie has used lacrosse as an outlet.

"Ever since I was little, [my dad] was doing drugs," Eddie said. "I sat through it my whole life. He sold a lot of weed, and I came home to it every day."

Eddie started playing lacrosse in the local Police Athletic League in third grade and has loved the intensity ever since. He also participated in wrestling until his sophomore season.

Sports, lacrosse especially, haven't been just an avenue of recreation for Eddie, but also an escape from reality, out of the doldrums of his father's mishaps and into a new scene, one that allows him to release pent up anger and aggression.

"I look over at the sidelines and see my mom cheering, and the anger inside me comes out," Eddie said. "I don't see [my dad]. I wish he was there, but he's not."

His dad attended games in the past, but that got sticky once Edward started going to games high on heroin and Xanax, according to the family.

"He'd go nuts, and I'd feel a little weird," Eddie said, "but he wouldn't remember it the next day."

"We didn't like bringing him to the games," said Lisa Collins, Eddie's mom, who is separated from Edward. "He likes that my son is sports oriented but would scream even if my son was doing well. It all depended on his mood."

Lisa said the last time Edward attended a game was Long Beach's Nassau County Class A championship game against Syosset in 2008. Eddie ranks that game, which the Marines lost, and a regular-season win over rival Massapequa as two of the most important moments in his career.

On the field, Eddie, who plays goalie, barks orders at his teammates and jokes around, and he's serious when it's time to practice. He's the same way all the time. Ready to have fun, but more importantly, ready to work at the game that gives him so much hope.

Currently, lacrosse heavyweights Towson and Hofstra are looking at him. He says he likes both schools and is debating whether to go away to school or stay closer to home to be near his mom.

"He's the best junior goalie on Long Island," Long Beach coach Jim Kaspar said. "This game is his life. He's kept us in there as a team."

[+] EnlargeEddie Collins
Chris Vaccaro Collins' love of lacrosse provided a much-needed distraction when times were tough at home.

Eddie had 205 saves last season, and while the Marines have struggled (2-6) early this season in arguably one of the toughest high school lacrosse conferences in the world, Eddie has hung tough and focused on improving a team that lost considerable senior talent from last season.

Still, with the parental example of jumping on a dark path, Eddie has done the opposite. He has learned from his father's mistakes.

"You either take the path your parents do or you're absolutely against it," Eddie said. "I still love my dad. Every time he comes back, I try to help him out. I'll always have hope, but if he doesn't change, he'll always be in jail or end up dead."

"He feels bad," Lisa said. "I think he has that feeling that if no one else likes his dad, he has to."

Eddie has maintained a steady support system of family, friends and coaches through the years. One is Massapequa lacrosse coach Joseph "Buddy" Hoffman, who, like Kaspar, has been a father figure for Eddie since middle school. Hoffman, a middle school teacher in Long Beach, coached Eddie on the South Shore Seals club lacrosse team, primarily to get him away from the environment he had in Long Beach as much as possible.

"I wanted him to meet new people, and it was Eddie being Eddie," said Hoffman, who was the head varsity coach at Long Beach for eight years before moving on to Massapequa. "All the kids latched onto him, and it really helped him mature."

Kaspar and Hoffman said Eddie used to be a different person when his father wasn't around. When his father was in jail during middle school, Eddie would act out in school. But by 10th grade, he had made the honor roll and things seemed to be going well. But when Edward was arrested the most recent time, Eddie took a momentary tilt in the classroom.

"That day his father was arrested, we got his equipment and I took shots on him," Hoffman said. "That's his escape. His excitement in that goal ignites the team."

His teammates concur.

"All he does is play lacrosse," said teammate Brian Suskind, a long-pole junior middie and close friend of Eddie's. "He wears lacrosse clothes, wants to get a tattoo of lacrosse sticks and just wants to play."

With his dad now in jail for another three years -- enough time for Eddie to secure his spot as a top high school goalie and grab a college scholarship -- there shouldn't be much in his way of accomplishing his goals.

Chris R. Vaccaro is a freelance writer in New York.