New Orleans may have the immortal reputation of being the nation's premier rowdy party town, and for a few members of the men's lacrosse team, their fall break trip to the hurricane-ravaged town was loud, indeed.
It was also dusty, sweaty and hard, complete with long days incessantly punctuated by the sounds of nails hitting hammers and the buzzing of saws — a clamor far removed from the rowdiness of Bourbon Street.
Over Fall Break, about a dozen teammates flew down to the city to volunteer their time and muscle for Habitat for Humanity, spending a week helping to build houses in an area destroyed by the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina.
Senior co-captain and attackman Scott Sowanick and junior midfielder Mike Gaudio — currently in the middle of a year off from Princeton — took the lead in putting the trip together.
"It's pretty unique: Princeton is one of the only schools that gets this week-long break," Sowanick said. "We brought up this idea of a New Orleans trip, and since Gaudio is basically at home until he comes back to school, he ended up putting some stuff together."
Gaudio got the team in touch with Habitat for Humanity, and with his father's help, arranged contacts and flights to get the ball rolling on the trip. Though it was the team's first large-scale organized operation of the sort, head coach Bill Tierney noted that Fall Break was originally designed for these types of activities.
"When it first started, it was back in the Vietnam war era when they decided it was a good time to be active [in politics or the community]," Tierney said.
Besides knowing they were going to be active, though, the players who traveled down south — including Sowanick, senior attack and co-captain Peter Trombino and senior defenseman Zach Jungers, as well as several other juniors, sophomores and freshmen — actually had little idea what they would end up doing.
"We had no idea what we were going to do," Sowanick said. "We got there and they put us on this brand-new project, so there was no house whatsoever, except the [concrete] base of the house."
Initially, the teammates worked on framing that one house, located in a site called New Orleans East about 20 minutes from the city center. As the week went on, they began to split up and work on different projects, including putting up siding and roofing on other houses.
"It was literally a round-the-clock job," Sowanick said. "We had to be at work at 7:30 [a.m.] and were working until three o'clock. After that, we were exhausted."
While those dozen or so men did the heavy lifting, though, the trip was decidedly a team effort.
"The coaches pitched in money, the families pitch in money," Tierney said. "It was a Princeton lacrosse family effort, highlighted, obviously, by the guys going down there and doing the work."
All of the players' families contributed in some way, and the players were able to present Habitat for Humanity with a check for $5,000 at the end of their stay to help rebuild a city that is still struggling more than a year after the disaster.
In some places, like the French Quarter where the players stayed, the town seemed to be doing well.
"The French quarter definitely was [coming back]," junior attack Alex Haynie said, who also went on the trip. "We were down there for Halloween and it was packed."
But the grim remains left in Katrina's wake made for vivid reminders of the enormous human tragedy that occurred.
"All the houses [still standing] have Xs on them with the number of bodies ... found inside them," Haynie said.
It wasn't all bad, though. The players also got to experience some of the culture and spirit the city is so famous for.
Sowanick recounted a story about a diner the team visited.
"The waitress ... all of a sudden, she starts belting out 'Amazing Grace' in the middle of the restaurant," he said. "It was exactly the kind of thing you hope to see ... it was special [that] we got to be a part of it."
The trip created such an impression that both Tierney and the players agree that they'd like to do something like it again. Already, the lacrosse team works in clinics and volunteers teaching children to play lacrosse in Trenton — "under the radar" community service, as Tierney describes it.
But before another big trip, they'll have to play some lacrosse.
"I think it's just the beginning of some great things for us," Tierney said.
~ By Trent Magruder, Daily Princetonian Senior Writer