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Prep Lacrosse: A season salvaged, and a lesson learned

INDIAN’ SYPOLT RETURNS AFTER

FRIGHTENING ACCIDENT

By ADAM HIMMELSBACH

For Stafford senior Alex Sypolt, this Valentine’s Day

was one he will never forget.

But it had nothing to do with roses or chocolate or anything like that.

No, Sypolt will remember the day because it was the day his jaw was broken and four of his teeth were knocked out.

Sypolt was driving his red 1991 Toyota pickup truck to lacrosse practice. And, as is so often the case with teenagers, he was running late.

So because he was running late, he felt like he had no time to put on his seatbelt. And because he was running late, he felt like he just had to pass the school bus that was slowly chugging along in front of him.

Sypolt, who was driving down a two-lane road, took a quick peek and then swerved into the opposite lane and picked up speed. He did not see the pickup truck coming at him until it was too late.

Sypolt’s truck was not equipped with airbags, so his face smacked into the steering wheel on impact. His jaw was cracked, blood poured from his mouth, and four of his lower teeth were knocked free.

The driver of the other truck was wearing a seatbelt, and he did have airbags, and he escaped with minimal harm.

“My adrenaline was so high I didn’t even realize my jaw was basically hanging there,” Sypolt said. “The first thing that went through my mind was that my lacrosse season was over.”

ANXIOUS MOMENTS

Sypolt’s story is a cautionary tale, but it is also a story of perseverance and growth.

He figured he had no chance to return to Stafford’s lacrosse team for his senior season. And he knew the Indians could use his speed and stick skills as one of their leading attackmen.

But at the moment of this gruesome crash, there were other concerns. Considering the circumstances—no seatbelt, no airbag and a 20-year-old truck—it could have been much worse.

Sypolt’s mother, Cindy, a math specialist at Ferry Farm Elementary School, received a call from her son’s cellphone moments after the crash, but her son was not at the other end.

A family friend had been driving down the same road soon after the accident. She called Cindy Sypolt and told her what had happened. She said Alex Sypolt was conscious, but that she should get there as soon as possible.

“I didn’t want to see the vehicle, because it would make me worry even more,” Cindy Sypolt said. “When I got there, they were wheeling him into the ambulance, and he was able to wave to me.”

She just kept telling her son to stay calm. She kept telling him he would be all right.

In addition to Alex Sypolt’s facial injuries, he had severely lacerated his right knee, requiring stitches.

Sypolt was hospitalized as he awaited surgery on his jaw. Because his condition was not considered an extreme emergency, he was passed over for more serious injuries for three days.

He lost about 15 pounds as he was fed a liquid diet. Finally, he underwent surgery on his jaw, and a doctor had a surprising message.

“He said he had to wait six weeks before playing a contact sport,” Cindy Sypolt said. “I said, ‘Wait, don’t you mean six months?’”

AN IMPROBABLE RETURN

Soon after Sypolt was released from the hospital, he began to attend Stafford’s lacrosse practices.

“I’d kind of come to terms with what happened and tried to make the best of it,” he said. “So I was just rooting my teammates on.”

After a few weeks, Sypolt was cleared to begin light jogging. He would do some cardiovascular work or play catch off to the side at practice, but being so close to the field was hard.

“He actually tried to sneak into a few drills,” Stafford coach Josh Wild said. “But he had bright yellow soccer cleats on, so you could pick him out of the lineup.”

Then, on March 30, Sypolt was cleared for full contact.

And last Thursday, less than a week after he was cleared to return, Sypolt took the field for the Indians’ game against James Monroe.

He was antsy and excited when he entered the game about five minutes into the first period. He misplayed a few passes and missed a few chances, but before long, his comfort returned, and he even scored a goal.

His mother just asked him to keep his chin up and not dive face-first for as many balls as he usually does.

Sypolt is expected to give Stafford’s offense a lift this season. Wild said his stick skills are among the best on the team.

But most of all, Sypolt is simply glad to be back.

“I really thought this game had been taken away from me,” he said.

A TEACHING MOMENT

Sypolt knows that he is fortunate to have another chance. And even though he worked through a difficult situation to return to his teammates, he realizes the only reason the crash happened was because he made a bad decision.

Each day, he looks in the mirror and sees the gap in his lower jaw where four teeth used to be. Each day, he sees his right knee that is covered with scars.

He recently shared his story with a driver’s education class at Stafford High, and the teacher later told Cindy Sypolt that it had a major impact.

And now, when Alex Sypolt drives with friends, he is the one checking to make sure everyone is buckled in safely. And he is the one making sure no one is driving recklessly.

“I told the guys never to take anything for granted, because something can happen and all of a sudden they can’t play this game anymore,” Sypolt said. “And if I see someone not wearing a seatbelt, I’ll yell at them.”

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442

ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/sports/2012/04/10/prep-lacrosse-a-season-salvaged-and-a-lesson-learned/