COVID-19 couldn't stop Lauren's First and Goal, or its worthy cancer research

James Franklin-Lauren Loose-012021
(Courtesy of Lauren's First and Goal)

For the first time since its 2004 inception, Lauren Loose couldn’t attend her namesake football camp.

Normally, she would make an appearance at Lauren’s First and Goal (LFG) Football Camp, speaking to thousands of high school-aged players and hundreds of coaches, all there in her honor. She is a survivor of multiple brain tumors and cancer diagnoses, which she has battled since her initial diagnosis of Type 1 neurofibromatosis in 1997.

Money raised from those camps — normally held in early June at Lafayette College (Easton, Penn.) — has gone toward donation grants to research pediatric tumors, pediatric cancer services or directly to patients and families in need. The players would pay to participate in the event; others brought additional donations for the camp’s namesake charity. The coaches would volunteer their time and energy, free of charge, to instruct them. Many donated to the charity as well.

Prior to 2021, the annual one-day camp had raised $2.6 million. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, forced its cancellation in 2020. The event was originally scheduled for June 7, 2020, but it was evident it couldn’t continue safely as the disease spread throughout the country. Marianne Loose and John Loose, Lauren’s parents and primary organizers of the camp, were forced to refund some of the money players had spent to attend. Others understood the money's importance, and simply considered it a donation.

That didn’t change the fact that, as long as COVID-19 remained a threat, LFG could not run its biggest fundraising event.

Such thoughts kept Marianne Loose awake at night. That and the occasional social worker, calling from a partner hospital to tell her of a family in need of financial support. She and husband John — former defensive coordinator at Lafayette and current assistant head coach under Jeff Monken at Army — had never faced a test like this in their 17 years organizing the event.

“‘We have to do something. We have to figure something out. We have to,’” Marianne Loose remembers thinking. “It was mandatory that we come up with something.

“I just didn’t know what it was going to be.”

When the Loose family founded the LFG camp in 2004, it featured roughly 300 players and 56 coaches, the latter of whom knew them in some capacity and wanted to help them and their charity any way they could.

As the years progressed, the camp grew into one of the country’s biggest single-day football clinics, even featuring offshoot sites in Ohio and Florida. At its zenith, a single-day camp could host some 2,500 campers and hundreds of collegiate and professional coaches.

The connections the Loose family made at those camps are ultimately what allowed them to put on an event in 2021.

Keith Grabowski had twice worked the camp while a coach at Baldwin Wallace University, and knew firsthand how important it was that it be able to continue, in some fashion. Grabowski, now the director of football at CoachTube — an online service that provides access to training and video content from coaches around the world — approached the Loose family with a new format that could allow LFG to continue raising money.

“When COVID shut everything down I approached John and Marianne Loose about doing a virtual clinic and putting together the best clinic lineup of coaches ever assembled,” Grabowski said. “We were all excited about the concept, and after talking to some college coaches initially, we knew we had a concept that coaches would get behind. From there the work began and we really didn’t hear the word, ‘No.’”

After a spring trial run to ensure the format would work — “it was great” — John Loose, Grabowski and Wade Floyd, founder of both CoachTube and CoachesClinic, got to work on the inaugural LFG Coaches Clinic.

A major part of that was recruiting coaches who wanted to participate. Not that it was difficult.

The final 2021 lineup featured 153 speakers, including representatives from every major college football conferenc, including keynote speakers in Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell; Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn; North Carolina coach Mack Brown; Rutgers coach Greg Schiano; Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins; Baylor coach Dave Aranda; Penn State coach James Franklin; Arizona coach Jedd Fisch; and Army coach Jeff Monken.

Said John Loose: “They’re all busy, and they’re all getting pulled in a bunch of directions. And it’s amazing how many coaches reached out to us to do it once they heard about the clinic. … So the outpouring of the profession is amazing to me. It really is.”

Monken, for his part, isn’t surprised the clinic received such an outpouring of support. He recalls being astounded at the scope of the camp when he first contributed to it in 2014 — the same year he hired John Loose as a safeties coach to his Army staff.

“There’s coaches now that reach out to John and ask if they can be a part of it,” Monken told Sporting News. “He doesn’t have to ask anymore. There are so many coaches that, just this week, John said called and said, ‘Hey can you fit me in? Can I talk? Can I be a part of the clinic?’”

The 2021 event was different from previous iterations, even apart from being completely virtual. Where it had previously been held over the course of a day and focused on teaching players, the coach-centric clinic took over four days, from Jan. 14-17.

Coaches could buy tickets to access the online clinic, with 80 percent going to LFG. Moreover, the site will create and sell videos of each course from the clinic, with 80 percent of funds going to the charity as well. And, because of the virtual nature of the event, LFG didn't need to spend money on previous expenditures such as lunch, insurance or other necessary amenities.

Not including donations, John Loose estimated the four-day event has raised more than $97,000 in funds — similar to what would have been raised from a one-day camp.

Another benefit of the all-virtual clinic has been the increased profile of the charity. Whereas the camp was previously known primarily in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, the 2021 clinic attracted attention from viewers as far away as Poland, Germany and Japan. That, the Loose family hopes, will result in an increased profile for the charity — not to mention donations and sponsorship.

The all-virtual setup had its downsides, however. Regulars at the event have missed Lauren. That includes Franklin, who asked her parents to give her a virtual hug on his behalf.

She has missed the interactions as well.

“The camp is usually one of my favorite things of the year,” Lauren, who turns 24 in February, told SN. “And to not have it this year, it’s kind of sad. But I’m glad we found out a way to raise some money doing it this way.”

Still, she found a way to speak with coaches; her interaction with Brown was one of the highlights of the clinic.

It remains to be seen whether Lauren’s First and Goal will revert back to a football camp following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Marianne Loose said “everything’s still on the table” following the tremendous success of the virtual clinic.

One thing is certain, however: As long as they are able, Marianne and John Loose will continue raising money not only to research pediatric brain tumors, but also to support families in need. And all in Lauren's name.

“COVID made a lot of plans go by the wayside,” Marianne Loose said. “But cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID.”

Neither, it seems, does the Loose family.

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