Grown up already | For the Love of the Game

The damage from Hurricane Katrina shown here in an undated photo. - Courtesy Photo, Shirts Across America
The damage from Hurricane Katrina shown here in an undated photo.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo, Shirts Across America

Cara Lohman has an unconventional interpretation of Spring Break.

While her peers relax on vacation or focus on their own dreams at national sports showcases, Lohman is part of a group of around 500 high school students from Greater Seattle who are working for the hopes of others.

She is no slouch in her own right on the court – part of the Cougars' 3A state championship basketball season in 2010-11 and a club softball player with the Bellevue Blast.

But for the second straight year Lohman is putting her own ambitions on the back burner for a week to spend time in New Orleans with Shirts Across America, a non-profit that has been building and repairing the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina violently altered the landscape and culture in 2007. It didn't take long on her first trip for her to realize the storm's damage remained long after the water receded.

"It probably started the minute we got into the busses," Lohman said from the campus of Tulane Univ., where the volunteers took a visit earlier this week. "There were cement slabs where houses used to be, overgrown lots that looked like fields and other houses that were boarded-up or abandoned."

With a first-hand perspective of the breadth of the destruction that remained, Lohman knew a week would not be long enough.To date, Shirts Across America has completed construction on eight homes in New Orleans and Mississippi and worked to repair over 100 more.

Lohman said the impact is starting to show but was adamant that only continued efforts will maintain that trend.

After being named a core team leader for this year's trip, she was tasked with recruiting fellow students to sacrifice a week of freedom to join her thousands of miles away, working to help people they did not know. It was far from easy, but the junior eventually lived-up to the expectation her school has set, signing up some 50 of her classmates.

"In some ways it looks like the community is still not here, but the sense of love is still tangible," Lohman said of "NOLA", as it is affectionately referred to. "The fact people have that sense of community without even having homes to live in is promising."

Thanks to Shirts Across America and hundreds of area teens willing to rethink the meaning of Spring Break, the future of the Gulf Coast and its people have some promise, too.

For the Love of the Game is a column by sports reporter Josh Suman. Contact Josh at 425-453-5045 by

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