Darien lacrosse captain Tommy Hellman aims high with Air Force

Tommy Hellman was, in more ways than one, the man in the middle for the Darien lacrosse team this spring.

A senior co-captain, Hellman was a force on both sides of the field, playing as a short-stick defensive midfielder, collecting more than 40 points on offense, and remaining a constant on the wings during faceoffs.

Beyond the Xs and Os of the game play, Hellman took on an important role when he was chosen to wear the Blue Wave’s No. 12 jersey for his senior year.

The number, which had been worn by Wes Barton in the early 1990s, was retired by head coach Jeff Brameier when Barton was diagnosed with cancer in 1992. Barton became a leader of the team and later on, a lacrosse coach.

Five years ago, Brameier reinstated the number and each season, it is worn by a “senior of honor.”

Hellman was the perfect fit.

“Tommy’s taken that No. 12 honor and really understood what it meant,” Brameier said. “On top of that, he was a great captain for us.”

Hellman has taken his considerable leadership and lacrosse skills west to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs this summer. He left for basic training on June 26, just eight days after graduation from DHS, and said he was ready for a new adventure.

“I really didn’t know too much about (Air Force) until the fall of my junior year when they reached out after a fall tournament,” Hellman said. “After going out there during the winter of my junior year, I really liked it — loved the coaches and the campus — and I think it’s going to a cool adventure for me. It’s something not many people are able to do.”

“When the opportunity arose for Tommy, he thought very hard about that and what other options he had,” Brameier said. “I think he just felt that was a great opportunity to go to a great school, play athletics, and also serve the country.”

Hellman and his senior teammates had quite a final season with the Wave lacrosse program. Looking to rebound from a devastating loss in last year’s Class L final, Darien went 17-5, outscored its state playoff opponents 62-15, and captured the championship with a 13-3 rout of Wilton in the final.

Finishing the season in a celebratory pile was a perfect way to end a career.

“We had a great season last year, but to lose that last game really hurt,” Hellman said. “We didn’t feel good all summer so we wanted to finish this last season right. I’m proud of what we did. We put in a lot of work to get back on top. We had some losses, but with how close we were as a team, there was nothing sweeter than finishing my career on top.”

Throughout it all, Hellman wore the No. 12 with pride.

“It’s in honor of Wes Barton, a former captain of mine who battled cancer and became a leader and a coach,” Brameier said. “When he was first diagnosed with cancer, I retired the jersey and then five years ago I decided to reinstate it. It needed to go to a player who was emblematic of what Wes stood for. He was a very team-oriented, quiet leader who went about his business, wasn’t looking for the limelight or the accolades, and did all the little things.”

The first player to receive the honor of wearing Darien’s No. 12 was Ian Burgoyne, who this spring graduated from the Naval Academy. He was a men’s lacrosse captain for Navy and wore the No. 40 jersey in honor of Lt. Brendan Looney, who was killed in Afghanistan in September of 2010.

“Ian was a great example of a player who should wear the No. 12,” Brameier said. “He was the first guy to wear that number and not only that, this year he was awarded the Navy’s honored jersey No. 40. To follow in Ian’s footsteps is a testament to the kind of kid Tommy is.”

This spring, the Blue Wave was not only honoring Barton, but his sister as well. Allison Haupt passed away from cancer last October and the team voted unanimously to honor her this season, placing a breast cancer ribbon on all of their helmets.

“It was an incredible honor,” Hellman said about wearing the No. 12. “It was a dream to get that number, especially after what his sister went through. Allison recently died from cancer and my mom was really close with her and we’re still really close with the family. It was awesome to be able to accept the jersey and honor the Bartons and Allison.”

Hellman said playing for the storied lacrosse program at Darien, where there are plenty of people ready to take their turn on the field, was a tremendous experience.

“It gives you extra drive and forces you to put in a lot of hard work,” Hellman said.” I love the tradition, I love seeing the guys coming back and talking to them. You wait your turn for a while and then you finally get that chance. There’s so many good guys in front of you, so it’s awesome to show what you can do.”

The turnaround from high school graduation to the first day in Colorado Springs was quick, although Hellman said he tried to squeeze everything and everyone into his schedule before he left. He won’t be back in Darien until Thanksgiving.

After four years of school, he’ll serve a minimum of five years in the Air Force, and Hellman said he’s excited for the experience and the future.

“Everybody I’ve talked to there talks about the bonds they’ve made between people and friends,” Hellman said. “I’ve never really been this far away from home, but I’m excited to meet people from all over, for the experience and for the benefits that come from it. It’ll be an awesome opportunity to serve.”