The ultimate Duke lacrosse player

Posted: Feb 22, 2007 12:00 AM
The ultimate Duke lacrosse player

There's another Duke lacrosse story, one you won't hear as much about as the one that involves a party, a stripper, and a rape that never happened.

There's another Duke lacrosse player, one you won't hear as much about as those accused of brutally assaulting an exotic dancer in early 2006 at a Durham house party.

There's another Duke lacrosse legacy, one you won't hear as much about as the tainted and race-scarred one a corrupt D.A. left in his wake.

On February 9, 2006, Army Ranger Jimmy Regan died in northern Iraq when the vehicle he was riding in hit a roadside bomb. He was 26 years old.

Four years earlier, before four tours in the war on terror-- two in Afghanistan and two in Iraq-- Regan had scored four goals in the 2002 ACC Championship lacrosse game to lead Duke to the crown.

With a highly regarded Duke undergrad degree in economics, a scholarship offer to Southern Methodist University law school, and a job offer on the table with USB financial firm upon graduation, Regan decided to join the Army out of college. He even bypassed Officer Candidates School, for which he was eligible, because it would "slow down my ability to become a Ranger," he told a friend.

Former teammate and current Duke lacrosse assistant coach Kevin Cassese remembered Jimmy as, "the ultimate Duke lacrosse man-- a man of tremendous loyalty, character, and fortitude," whose decision to join the Army seemed natural to anyone who had seen him lead on the field. "Jimmy was a leader in every sense of the word, and the pride and honor of fighting for our country was something that meant a lot to him," Cassese said in an e-mail interview.

Regan's fiance Mary McHugh remembers what drove him to be a Ranger in the first place:

"He said, 'If I don't do it, then who will do it?'" said McHugh, a medical student at Emory University in Atlanta. "He recognized it as an option and he couldn't not do it."

McHugh and Regan were set to wed in 2008 when his stint in the Army was up. They wanted to move to Chicago, where her family lived, and Regan planned to be a social studies teacher and coach lacrosse.

Instead, Regan's three sisters--ages 25, 20, and 16--parents, fiance, and friends mourned him in Manhasset, N.Y. this week before laying him to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge and Ranger Tab.

He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

In mourning, Regan's father-- also James-- thought not only of his son, but of the mission he died fighting:

"What is written in the papers and what is being politicized out there by our candidates is undermining our service," said James Regan, a senior vice president at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, a Manhattan financial services investment bank.

"These gentlemen that are out there are mission-focused," he said of the troops. "They're trying to do the best job they possibly can. There have been mistakes made, why even list them? ... You cannot put men in the field of battle and then change your mind and go out as a whip-dog. Let the men do their job."

Regan's Army service was not the first place he distinguished himself. Born in Rockville Centre, N.Y., Regan had become a stand-out student and student-athlete by the time he hit high school, earning an All-American designation for lacrosse and all-state scholar athlete honors in football at Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y. Duke offered him a scholarship for lacrosse, where he distinguished himself as an all-ACC tournament team mid-fielder and all-ACC academic team member.

"He was an impressive midfielder, which shouldn't surprise you because the midfielders do all the dirty work," Cassese said, referring to the back-and-forth nature of lacrosse's workhorse position. "The type of player he was doesn't even begin to measure up to the type of person he was, and he was a terrific player."

In Infantry Basic Combat Training, the Army said Regan graduated first in a class of 400, and was named "soldier of the cycle" in May 2004 before moving on to the Basic Airborne Course and the Ranger Indoctrination Program.

On Feb. 1, Regan was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

There is already one Duke lacrosse story you know all about. I've just told you another one-- one worth telling and retelling to as many people as will listen. It's a different story, a different player, and a different legacy-- one of heroism, not hooliganism; bravery, not brutality; honor, not assault.

Remember Jimmy Regan. He deserves it so much more than Mike Nifong's sordid soap opera, which has since stained the town, the field, and the team where this young hero once played.

The Regan family has established a scholarship fund in Jimmy's name. Donations can be sent to the Jim Regan Scholarship, c/o Chaminade Development Office, 340 Jackson Ave., Mineola, N.Y. 11501.