The 2012 MLL off-season has been perhaps the most eventful to date. In an expansion year, most teams have been significantly restructured including coaching changes, an historic number of blockbuster trades and the return of notable veterans like defenseman Brett Hughes, who will suit up for his home state’s Ohio Machine this season.
“It’s a huge honor for me to come back full circle to where I started playing lacrosse years ago,” Hughes says. “It will be special to play for the Ohio Machine in front of my friends, family and grandparents, especially since I played college lacrosse in Virginia. I think that’s one of my favorite things about the sport; the ability to compete in front of my friends and family.”
Hughes joined MLL in 2005 and has played for the New Jersey Pride, the Los Angeles Riptide and the Denver Outlaws. He enters his sixth season with the league with 49 games under his belt. He is an MLL All-Star and a proven defensive weapon, selected by the Machine in the 10 th round of the 2012 MLL Expansion Draft.
“I look at Brett and I see a world-class talent that still feels like he has something to prove. I know he will help the team stay focused on the singular goal of becoming world champions,” says Ohio Machine President and General Manger John Algie, who has been vocal about making character a top priority in building his roster. “Off the field, I do not know that you will meet a more genuine person than Brett Hughes. His selfless dedication to helping others is infectious. You talk to him for ten minutes and when you come away you just can’t help but root for the guy.”
The Machine have carefully selected a roster chalk full of character players, veteran leaders, young guns and local flavor that are passionate about propelling the sport in the region. Who better to encompass that than Hughes, who found his love for lacrosse in Upper Arlington?
“Growing up in Ohio, the sport was similar to where I am now in California,” he says. “Kids are popping up in big time Division I teams, which gives the younger kids a great chance to say ‘I can do that.’ When I was growing up, we had a few of those guys who started to make lacrosse seem like a realistic dream. Now, it seems like every major lacrosse team has an Ohio kid. So bringing an MLL team to the area was the next logical step.”
Hughes had a standout career as a defenseman at the University of Virginia where he started in every game from 2001 to 2005, was a two-time All-American and a NCAA National Champion in 2003. A championship wasn’t the only thing he matriculated with. Hughes is often known for his refreshing outlook on life and has popularized the phrase “Best day of my life,” a philosophy that was planted by UVa Assistant Coach Hannon Wright.
“It started almost as a joke at first. No matter how tired I was, or if it was sleeting or raining sideways, he’d always say ‘What is today?’ I’d laugh and say ‘The best day of my life.’ I said it so much that it became part of who I was,” Hughes says of his personal mantra, which has since evolved into " Another Best Day," an apparel company with a positive world view.
This way of thinking eventually led Hughes to find that lacrosse could become more significant than he ever imagined. About five years ago he connected with Brad Corrigan, most famed for helping to form the band Dispatch. Hughes discovered that Corrigan was a former Middlebury Lacrosse player who shared the same values. Before he knew it, the wheels were set in motion for what would become Lacrosse the Nations (LtN), a non-profit organization dedicating to unifying the lacrosse community to sustainably improve education and health while creating hope and opportunity for children in need.
“Our connection was instant. I told him my ideas about creating a non-profit using lacrosse as a vehicle to help people in need. He already had a connection to Nicaragua, so it was a natural fit,” Hughes remembers. Upon receiving the 501c3 title, dubbing Lacrosse the Nations as a recognized non-profit, the group quickly got to work and laid the foundation for what would eventually encompass five separate programs, both international and domestic.
“When it first started, it was a vision of what lacrosse could do,” Hughes says. “We wanted it to be a conduit to hearts. Today we have five programs, our board has been growing and the involvement through fundraising has been booming.”
Hughes says each program is different because no two communities are the same, but Lacrosse the Nations has a strong thumbprint of what they do. “We promote education with a nutrition program if a community is in need, and we tailor what we are as long as the curriculum remains the same.”
As for the lacrosse, “that’s the easy part,” he laughs. “Anyone can agree that lacrosse is such a cool sport. Adding that element of the stick and ball is different than anything else; it’s intoxicating. So for the kids we work with, it’s not so easy that it gets boring, but it’s not hard enough that they lose interest. It provides an outlet for them; it’s a recess from their daily struggles. The faces of the kids I’ve gotten to meet are always with me. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the families and people I’ve met.”
Other MLL players have jumped at the opportunity to be involved with Lacrosse the Nations. “ Greg Bice is working with a local community in Columbus, Ohio. They had to shorten the program because so many people were going out and playing, then having trouble focusing and not wanting to talk about anything but lacrosse, which probably wasn’t too appealing to their teachers, but it’s music to my ears,” Hughes laughs. Other athletes like Connor Martin, Chazz Woodson, Matt Bocklet, MLL Draftee Chris Bocklet and Max Seibald have been involved whether through traveling to Nicaragua or helping on the fundraising end. “The support from alumni and current players just makes your heart swell.”
Hughes is continuing his dedication as an evangelist for the sport with a new program called Lacrosse the Pond, a scholarship program designed to allow graduates to continue playing the sport they love while pursuing an advanced degree in the UK. “It’s designed for kids who don’t have an opportunity to go abroad during college to take a fifth year and play for a team in England.” Hughes says lacrosse is seeing tremendous growth in a culture where community sports like rugby and soccer are thriving, though it still has room to grow.
Even with his philanthropic efforts and planning his wedding to singer/songwriter/actress Kate Voegele (who will sing the National Anthem on opening day for the Machine), he’ll be the first to tell you how much he’s looking forward to his return to MLL and to being in a team atmosphere again. “It will be a lot of travel, but I’ll love every weekend. It will be fun to be back with my family and to play with former teammates and also guys I’ve never had the opportunity to play with before. There’s a lot to look forward to!”