Thursday, February 15, 2007

James J. Regan dies of injuries from I.E.D.

In the pictures of Jimmy Regan that portray him best, he is always in uniform, always looking steadily into the camera with an expression of calm purpose.

Someone once said sports don't build character, they reveal it.

That was the case with Regan, according to those who knew him, and you can look into his eyes in those photographs and know he was someone you wanted on your side.

Regan, originally from Long Island, was a lacrosse player at Duke University and an example of the very best side of a program that has taken its knocks recently.

He was a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference all-academic team as he worked toward a degree in economics, and capped his playing career with four goals against the University of Virginia in the 2002 conference championship game. An investment firm wanted to hire him, and he was offered a scholarship to the law school at Southern Methodist University.

Regan had another plan. He traded the Duke lacrosse uniform for a U.S. Army uniform, earning a place among the elite Army Rangers.

"If I don't do it," he told a friend, "who will?"

Regan did two tours of duty in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. He last tour was scheduled for completion one year from this month, when he intended to marry his fiancée, Mary McHugh, and the two would settle near her family in Chicago. Jimmy Regan wanted to become a teacher and a lacrosse coach.

Last week in Iraq, Regan died at the age of 26. The family was notified on Friday, and Duke announced his death on Sunday. The official Army report has not been released, but the family believes a roadside bomb killed him.

There is little in the flat retelling of those details that can convey what those who knew Regan lost in that moment - a son, a brother, a fiancé, a friend, a teammate. All of those things and more.

"He was just a wonderful guy," said Dan Keating, the lacrosse coach at St. Joseph's Prep, who, along with his brother and Prep assistant, Mike Keating, played at Duke with Regan. "Very soft-spoken and humble. He was a freshman when I was a senior, but I got to know him better when I went back to visit my brother after I graduated. He was the consummate team player. He always put his teammates before himself, and I'm sure that carried over when he was in the Army."

The lacrosse community in this country is growing quickly, but it is still a small world of many crossed paths, particularly along the East Coast. Regan's death has stunned that community, partly because death is always shocking, but mostly because Jimmy Regan was, to those who knew him, the best and brightest among us.

"He was a solid, all-around guy, as solid as they come," said Todd Minerly, who played for St. Anthony's, a Long Island rival of Regan's Chaminade High, and later became captain of the University of Pennsylvania lacrosse team. "The kind of player he was fit right into his going into the Army. At Duke, they recruited physical, hard-nosed kids that did what they were told and took orders. That always showed on the lacrosse field."

Regan's sense of duty ultimately led him to a terrible place and a tragic end. Along the way, he was decorated with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and several other medals. He had reached the rank of sergeant at the time of his death.

It has to be left for others to find deeper meaning. Regan volunteered for the service and knew the risk. His family doesn't want his memory diminished by the thought that his life and all that it might have become was sacrificed for no good reason. He was doing, as he always did regardless of what kind of uniform he wore, what he thought was right.

But after a long year in which the words Duke lacrosse became a symbol for something else, part of the legacy of Regan is that he represented his school and his sport in a far better way.

"I know I'm not unbiased on this subject because I played there," said Dan Keating, "but to all the people who knocked Duke lacrosse and characterized its players in a bad light, Jimmy Regan was the absolute antithesis of what those critics have said. This is the type of player our coach produced, players of good character who went on to be productive citizens, and Jimmy was the apex of that."

Mike Pressler coached Regan and the Keatings and hundreds of other players in his 15 years as Duke lacrosse coach before he was dismissed during the alleged-rape scandal last year. He is now coach at Division II Bryant University in Rhode Island. Regan was among his favorites.

"He was the kind of kid that every coach in America would be proud to call his own," Pressler told USA Today.

Pressler was proud of that, and proud of his program and proud he knew a young man as good as Jimmy Regan.

Whatever else remains in doubt as tragedy piles upon tragedy, that much will always be true.

From the Inquirer