By Scott Bernarde

Three months ago, the only thing that a Massachusetts teenager had in common with Atlanta was the game of lacrosse.

It ends up that it’s a pretty strong tie.

It has created lifelong friends, revealed an incredible effort of a community for one cause and proved that no matter what happens, positive thoughts and actions can have a powerful effect.

“It blows me away every time I think about it,” said Mary Jo Corsetti, director of Atlanta Youth Lacrosse and one of the lead organizers of an effort to provide support for 14-year-old Ben Goss, a youth lacrosse player from Dunstable, Mass., who has been recovering at the Shepherd Center in Buckhead since August from spinal injuries suffered in a car accident. “Every time I go [to Shepherd] to visit, I get chills to see what people are doing for him.”

Ever since Ben arrived in Atlanta, he and his family have seen the best that Georgia kindness and hospitality has to offer. Dozens of lacrosse families from Sandy Springs to Brookhaven – and even from locales outside of metro Atlanta – have donated time, money, meals, visits, lodging, transportation … the list is nearly endless.

“Whatever we think we might need walks right through the door,” said mother Jodi Goss, who has been in Atlanta with Ben since he transferred to Shepherd with paralysis from the chest down caused by two broken vertebrae in his neck. “It’s been amazing.”

“They’ve given us so many things, like monetarily, but the main thing is friendship,” father Wes said during an interview in Ben’s room at Shepherd. “They come in here because they want to, not because they have to.”

Life-changing moment

Ben, a rising freshman at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School in West Groton, Mass., and an aspiring lacrosse player, “looked the best, but he was the worst,” according to his mother, after the one-car accident in rural Massachusetts on July 22. Ben and his 17-year-old brother Zach were passengers in an SUV with two other friends, when the driver lost control on a winding road, careening off a telephone pole, then into an oak tree. “They were speeding. It was foolish driving. It was stupidity,” Wes said.

Zach needed three stitches, but Ben, who didn’t have a scratch on him, couldn’t move.

“At first, I thought I’d never walk again,” said Ben, who has regained feeling in his legs and was scheduled to leave Shepherd on Oct. 29 for a 10-day trip back home, then return to Atlanta Nov. 8 for Shepherd’s “day program,” which will allow him to stay in housing out of the hospital but continue his rehab. “I couldn’t feel a thing. Everything was completely numb.”

Ben’s injury was considered “incomplete,” meaning there’s been partial damage to the spinal cord and the possibility for recovery is present. While at the Children’s Hospital Boston, the Shepherd Center, and its rehab reputation, came up quickly in discussions.

“The Shepherd Center, that was it. That was the one,” Wes said. “It was highly recommended by all the doctors in Boston.”

It was a no-brainer to travel to Atlanta.

One call, that’s all

The Goss family arrived at Shepherd on Aug. 11 and the local lacrosse community went to work.

Mary Jo Corsetti, whose husband Lou Corsetti was part of the group who helped introduced the sport to Atlanta nearly 20 years ago, ended up being the lightning rod for action. The Corsetti’s learned of Ben’s injury – and his love of lacrosse – through their connections with U.S. Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body.

“I don’t know if I’m terribly surprised when the call came out that there would be such a response,” said Glenn Viers, a Brookhaven resident whose son, Holden, is an eighth-grade lacrosse player at the Marist School and a five-year player in Atlanta Youth Lacrosse. Viers, who works for the company that owns Houston’s restaurant in Buckhead, arranged for dinner vouchers for the family, but insists he’s just a small part of the effort.

“Lacrosse is that kind of sport,” said Fred Assaf, the headmaster of Pace Academy in Buckhead and father of five lacrosse-playing sons. “The Corsettis represent what is best about lacrosse and sports in general. Sports is more than about winning. It’s about community.”

Phone calls and emails spread throughout the community and quickly Ben’s room at Shepherd reflected the support. Posters, get-well cards, autographed T-shirts and jerseys, photographs, and even lacrosse sticks, helmets and gloves were displayed everywhere.

There’s more

Frequent-flyer and reward points were donated to help pay for flights to and from Massachusetts, hotel accommodations and car rental. Restaurant certificates, tickets to a Thrashers game, an I-Pod for Ben and his roommate, and countless visits from lacrosse parents and kids were among the other gifts. Many high school teams have visited, some multiple times.

“The common denominator is lacrosse,” said Elise Meadows of Buckhead, whose 13-year-old son Lawson plays in Atlanta Youth Lacrosse. “Ben and his family have inspired all of us with their optimism, tanacity and humor.”

Carolyn and Jim Baugus of Sandy Springs, who have a 12-year-old playing lacrosse, made available a family guest house at Carolyn’s mother’s home in Buckhead. “I thought it might be a nice, private place for the family to stay if they needed it,” she said.

“Having grown up in Atlanta,” Carolyn Baugus continued, “I’ve seen our community pull together many, many times … I don’t think Atlantans do it for any self-serving reasons. I think they truly enjoy helping others.”

Back in the game

The local support, mirroring a similar effort from caring families in Massachusetts, has floored the Goss family.

Jodi Goss once thanked a visitor on Ben’s Caring Bridge Web page for bringing soft cookies. The next day, five families came visiting, each bringing soft cookies, too.

“People are flooded out and they’re bringing food,” Jodi Goss said, referring to Atlanta’s historic flood at the end of September. “I had one woman come in and say, ‘I apologize, I wanted to be here earlier, but I have a foot of water in my basement.’ That’s amazing. It’s like, I should help you bail out your basement.”

The support has helped the family concentrate on Ben’s recovery, which has made significant progress at Shepherd. The boy has sensation in his legs, has worked hard with the help of Shepherd therapists and is able to get around in a wheelchair.

Doctors are famous for not giving patients a prognosis for serious medical conditions, but Ben expects to be back playing lacrosse.

“As bad as my injury is, some people are much worse than me,” he said. “I’ve been here two months and I’ve probably seen 10 people walk out of here. That’s been great.

“I’ve seen what they can do here and it builds me up … My plan is to get built back up to where I was before, then play in the fall again.”

No matter what the future holds for Ben Goss, his time in Georgia will have a lasting impression.

“We will never be able to thank these people enough,” said Jodi Goss. “We would never have been able to do this without them.”