Jackson Appelt (New Canaan, Conn.) is a rising senior on the Virginia men’s lacrosse team. He was bestowed the honor of living on the Lawn for the 2020-21 academic year and has spearheaded many community service efforts for the men’s lacrosse program, including the annual Will Barrow Memorial Flag Football Tournament. His father, Garth, was a midfielder at UVA from 1988-91.
Q: Congratulations on winning the DI men’s Unsung Hero Award from the One Love Foundation. What does it mean to be recognized for the impact you are making in the community?
Appelt: Being part of the UVA family nearly my entire life, I have been fortunate enough to follow the One Love Foundation ever since its inception. Over the years, I have been so impressed, but even more so grateful, to have an organization like One Love, which brings a such a sense of compassion, empowerment, and connection to every community it visits around the university. Specifically, I will be forever grateful for the role they have played in helping our men’s and women’s lacrosse teams find perspective and connectedness while discussing crucial topics influencing the young adult experience at UVA. As a result, I am so honored to be a part of having the One Love Unsung Hero Award finally come back to UVA. I am incredibly humbled to help continue to honor Yeardley’s legacy, as a pure, genuine soul who lived her life as a ray of light for all those around her, without seeking recognition or praise.
One of the things I have said frequently about this honor is how I do not really see this as an award and more as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to shed light on the issues plaguing the young-adult experience at an institution like UVA, from mental health, to relationship violence and racial injustice. An opportunity to showcase some of the amazing work and programming we students at UVA are doing to address these issues and bring more connection, communication, and the opportunity to be vulnerable to each and every UVA student. And finally, an opportunity now to have an organization like One Love serve as a powerful supporter of this movement. In a sense, this honor has become a gift that keeps on giving, allowing me to become even more closely involved with the One Love Foundation. I have enjoyed bringing mental health and discussion group programming to their camps this summer and am looking forward to working with them to bring more widespread programming in the form of an organized event to UVA students this coming year.
Q: You have been involved heavily with the Will Barrow Memorial Flag Football Tournament that Max Pomper started in 2009. The last couple of years that fundraiser has added college scholarships for Harlem Lacrosse alums, in addition to its mission of helping the UVA Help Line at the Madison House. What has it been like to add that goal and what has the reception been like for those that have received the scholarships the last couple years?
Appelt: The addition of Harlem Lacrosse to the Will Barrow fundraiser has been such a meaningful experience for all who get to be a part of it. The establishment of the ‘Will Barrow Memorial Awards’ is a tremendous opportunity to continue to honor Will’s legacy, now by supporting young alumni of the Harlem Lacrosse program who embody Will’s sense of passion, friendship, and leadership, something that our past winners are so proud to represent. Moreover, one of my favorite parts of the weekend is hosting a group of middle school Harlem Lacrosse students to UVA. Each year, they have been able to come throw around with a few players on the Lawn, and get to speak with Dean Groves in the Rotunda and former UVA lacrosse head coach Dom Starsia. This new tradition has been such a great way to connect multiple generations who share the same love for the sport of lacrosse and allow Will Barrow’s legacy to continue to have a positive impact on our communities.
Q: Any plans you are ready to share about an upcoming Will Barrow Memorial Flag Football Tournament and how has planning gone when taking into account the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Appelt: As with most things during the current situation, planning this year’s Will Barrow Memorial Fundraiser will certainly take some creativity, determination, and adaptability. While the event, particularly the in-person activities, might be quite different. I think this year there is an opportunity for a bigger push than ever on the fundraising and awareness aspects of the event. During this pandemic, two of the most prominent issues have and will continue to be mental health and opportunities for young people in disadvantaged communities.
Supporting the UVA Helpline will be paramount, as UVA students will be faced with a challenge no generation has ever before, dealing with modified education, fractioned social lives, and the anxiety surrounding the health of themselves, their loved ones, and the state of the world. People need to know there are resources like the HELPLine on campus ready and equipped to support them. Secondly, inner-city communities have already and will continue to feel the heaviest economic and social burdens of both the pandemic and racial injustice. Consequently, it is more impactful now than ever to help young, impassioned students pursue further education and greater life opportunities in a time where opportunity is hard to come by. It is my belief that the supporters of the Will Barrow Fundraiser will recognize these truths and show their increasing support for the causes and values this event stands for.
Q: What is the drive behind your eagerness to help the community in the ways that you do and are there any other involvements you have taken part in that we haven’t talked about?
Appelt: Over the last few years, my biggest sense of purpose at UVA has been working to improve the mental health culture and experience for UVA students. This passion was born out of my own personal exploration through adversity, as I began to realize what I believe are the two essential aspects of resilience: the opportunity to be vulnerable with others and freedom to explore one’s own passions. However, I have come to realize how the pressure on most young adults, particularly in high-performing places like UVA, is to practice toughness and independence through adversity. This dynamic is something that I saw as absolutely detrimental to the wellness of young students, including myself and some of my closest friends. Consequently, over the last few years, my goal, along with many of my peers that I work with, is to provide programming to students that gives them the courage to be vulnerable and compassionate with each other, and see that compassion reciprocated in the form of meaningful relationships.
This mental health initiative began with the inception of the ‘campfire’ series: discussion groups aimed at giving students the opportunity to express themselves in an open, honest environment with peers who understand similar hardships and experiences. With such positive reception in our first meetings, I was inspired to bring this type of mental health programming to more students at UVA, seizing on the opportunity to actually teach my own course this upcoming fall, titled ‘The Collaborative Exploration of Resilience’ through the CavEd program, using the ‘campfire’ model. My wish is that this course will bring together a diverse group of UVA students for a meaningful experience in personal development, while simultaneously providing evidence to support a recommendation for future mental health programming to UVA officials in my thesis next spring. Lastly, my work has brought me very close to other groups in the mental health space, such as the JCK Foundation. Growing close with their CEO, John Tessitore, over the last year, we have actually started production on a new mental health podcast that we call ‘The Chase for Authenticity’, born from the belief that everybody deserves the opportunity to be authentically themselves.
While I have been fortunate enough to help facilitate projects surrounding mental health, resilience, and authenticity at UVA over the years, my strongest realization about this movement is that the work is never done, and can never be done alone. I truly believe the effort to change campus culture is an infinite goal, rather than a finite one. It will require ongoing support from impassioned students and respected institutions like One Love and JCK alike to help motivate a community of students, as they work to turn moments of inspiration into the larger movements of change we are all looking to see.
Q: Virginia’s NCAA Tournament run last year has been replayed a lot over the last few months. Have you watched at all and were your reminded of moments or pivotal plays that had escaped your mind in the last year?
Appelt: The huddles our team had during pivotal moments of our many miraculous comebacks, particularly during the Maryland NCAA Quarterfinal. I’ll never forget after we went down by five and pretty much everyone watching thought the game was over. Our offensive group came together and huddled up arm to arm. We all looked at each other, waiting for Coach to come in, all chiming in that we were not going to back down and that taking it one play at a time, playing together, we’d find a way to win this game. Obviously, many people remember the next handful of minutes, but I don’t think many recognize incredible circumstances like that don’t occur for no reason. Moments like that were a great representation of the resilience, togetherness, and no-quit attitude of that team, which was something that only grew throughout our late May run and eventually led to us pulling off the seemingly impossible in the end.
Q: You are one of the lucky fourth-year students at UVA that was awarded the privilege of living on the Lawn for the 2020-21 academic year. What is the application process like, when did you find out and what does it mean to you to have this honor?
Appelt: As a child, I remember my father walking me through the Grounds, telling me stories of his time at UVA, on the Lawn, and all the people he knew who had lived in these rooms over the last 200+ years. Consequently, living on the Lawn has been a dream of mine ever since I was little and something I excitedly decided to go for in my third-year spring. The application consists of a resume, reference, transcript and short essays, very similar to a scholarship application. Generally, in February, you get a mass-email from Dean Groves announcing your application results. However, funny enough, after growing close over the years with Dean Groves and working on projects such as the Will Barrow fundraiser, I was so shocked and honored to wake up to an additional personal email from Dean Groves congratulating me on admittance to the Lawn. I spent a few minutes in just pure shock and awe, trying to collect my thoughts and remember to breathe, then quickly called my grandfather and both parents, who’s support over the years had truly meant the world to me. It was also so great to have a conversation with my coach Lars Tiffany, who had always pushed so hard in our conversations over the years encouraging me to apply, as well as former UVA lacrosse coach Dom Starsia. Dom has coached me ever since I was a player at his Graves Mountain lacrosse camp: the undeniable beginning of my dream to be a UVA lacrosse player. Years later, it was amazing to share that moment with him too, knowing how big a role he had played in my life and path towards UVA.
As you reach the tail-end of your UVA career, you find yourself a bit in a state of shock and nostalgia, wondering how the last few years in a place you had grown to love had gone by so quickly. Sometimes you wish, as cliché as it sounds, you had stopped to look around for a while and appreciate it even more than you already had. In my last year, I am so excited not only to have this Lawn room for myself, but to share it with the people I have grown to care about so much over the years, as well as with some new and amazing people from the Lawn community. I think it will provide an amazing opportunity to slow down a bit, make some final amazing memories as an Undergrad, and appreciate the gift that comes with being a UVA student just a little bit more.
Q: How has the team contact been since the season ended? Are there more meetings via ZOOM than normal summers?
Appelt: The team has actually had more contact, at least virtually, than ever before. With everyone having a little more time on their hands and our season getting cut short, we’ve had more time for film study and discussion. This has been particularly valuable during the process of onboarding our new freshman, who normally have to learn most of our schemes coming in during the first few weeks of fall ball. Finally, inspired by the powerful racial justice movements nationwide, we have used this extra time take the opportunity as a team and have more important discussions on racial justice and equality. We have discussed in length what we as a team can to educate ourselves and ultimately help improve the culture at UVA once we return to campus.
Q: These past couple months, what has this experience been like for you, especially living in New Canaan, Conn., near the NYC epicenter for COVID-19?
Appelt: Coming back home to New York in March was definitely a shell-shock, particularly to witness the amount of fear and disconnect affecting the people in my area in the beginning of all this. The hard work and sacrifice by front-line workers the last few months has been nothing short of extraordinary. However, one of the hardest things about life for those stuck at home was seeing the suffering and hardship being experienced by so many and feeling so helpless in trying to contribute. Yet, a few weeks into quarantine, like many, I began to witness some of the most inspiring acts of generosity and compassion on display, such as young people delivering groceries for at-risk elderly, creative production of PPE, people commuting to the city to package food for under-served communities, and even things as simple as just staying home. I think people have learned a simple but elegant lesson through all this: there truly is no trivial act of kindness, especially in a time where the result of your kindness often goes unseen.
Q: A lot of UVA lacrosse players hail from areas around NYC. Have you been able to catch up in the recent months with any teammates?
Appelt: Yes! I’ve been able to shoot with John Fox and Regan Quinn and caught up with Ian Laviano once for dinner. One of the hardest parts of this situation was how quickly it hit and how fast we all had to say goodbye. While we are scattered across the country, with travel restricted, it is great to keep in touch virtually, and I think we are all itching to get back so we can be back together again as a team.
Q: With the season ending so abruptly, is there anything you would like to share with or about the seniors on the team?
Appelt: There’s so many thoughts I could share about this graduating class. Although, one story that I think highlights them best is our last practice before Maryland this year, which eventually turned to be our last practice as a team together before we were sent home. With no knowledge of what would happen, we decided to come down to practice and just have a day of pure fun, enjoyment, and excitement as a group. We scrimmaged for nearly two hours, and by the time it was over, I think everyone could honestly say it was one of their favorite days of lacrosse they’d ever experienced. Led by this senior class, these older guys did such a great job of leading us through such turbulent, uncertain times over the last few years. At moments where we did not know what next week, game, or day would bring, this class always found a way to remind our team, as fifth-year Ryan Lamb said in our final team huddle, of the gift that each day together was. That is something I will always be grateful for.
Q: What is your routine like this summer? Walk through a normal day.
Appelt: While the timing of my schedule on a daily basis changes throughout the week, there are a number of things that I get done every day. I’ve been able to work remotely for my summer internship with a Melanoma research group at Harvard Med School and Mass General Hospital. I spend a few hours a day committed to that, whether it be through lab meetings, reading papers, or working on a project analyzing a group of tumor samples and working towards a grant proposal. I also have been continuing my work in the mental health space, running a mental health podcast, called ‘The Chase for Authenticity’, with John Tessitore from the JCK Mental Health foundation, and volunteering with the One Love-Triple Threat Academy Camp running ‘campfire’-style discussion groups. Lastly, quarantine has given me a great opportunity to train more consistently and harder than I have most other off-seasons. Last summer, I was able to visit the TB12 (Tom Brady) workout center in Foxborough, and was super impressed with their holistic approach to both training and recovery, something that really appealed to me especially given my injury history. I’ve been working virtually with one of their trainers, training hard four days a week with two days of recovery. Then, I’ve tried to keep my stick in my hand every day, whether through wall-ball, shooting, dodging, or coaching.
Q: How do you create a routine while being at home?
Appelt: Finding people to help me keep it. I think one of the hardest things during quarantine is the feelings of isolation and a need to be productive at the same time. That being said, I’ve personally attempted to manage these feelings by finding people to be productive with, whether it is my siblings I play lacrosse with, parents who I can sit down and do work with, or my trainer from TB12 who I do virtual workouts with. Finding some semblance of connectivity and productivity has definitely kept me more upbeat and resilient during this strange time.
Q: How do you stay motivated to train on your own?
Appelt: Believing and taking pride in the quality of my work. In the beginning of my career, I certainly worked hard, but found my training may not have been changing my body or skill in ways that would specifically benefit my own play. One of the lessons I have learned at UVA over the last few years is that hard work doesn’t always lead to results, unless you believe in that work and especially learn to enjoy the process along the way. Now, after a lot of exploration, learning, and maturation, I’ve got a better sense of what I need to do to not only improve things like my strength or speed, but also my durability, skill, and most importantly my joy for the game.
Q: Describe Coach Tiffany in one word?
Appelt: Receptive. Of all the things about Coach Tiffany, one of the things you grow to realize and appreciate is not just his ability to teach, but just how eager he is to learn from his players, from circumstances and from outside sources of inspiration. From his players, Coach Tiffany has structured so much of our team dynamics around group discussion. In film and game-planning, he uses nearly each clip either as a teaching moment, or, just as often, as an inquiry into our perspectives. It is very impressive to see a coach who you know has such a high knowledge of the game, yet still has incredible appreciation for his players’ insight and is always trying to learn more or see things from a slightly new perspective. From a culture standpoint, Coach T demonstrates the same intense passion for learning. He consistently brings in outside sources of insight or inspiration, and structures our cultural meetings into group discussion, so that not only can he learn more from us, but we can learn from each other.
Q: Who is the funniest guy on the team?
Appelt: Such a hard question, because I could make a case for nearly everyone. However, for fun I’ll go with one of my best friends and two-year roommate Alex Rode. Of all the guys on the team, I think Alex is the one who has an ability to be funny even when he’s not trying to be. A few examples I can think of are the fact that he eats goldfish one at a time, or the fact that his pre-game routine consists of a run at 11 p.m. the night before the game, and finally how he has an avid love for rom-coms, particularly “The Spectacular Now.”
Q: Besides men’s lacrosse, who is your favorite UVA team to watch or follow? Favorite UVA athlete from another sport and why?
Appelt: It is quite hard to pick just one. Working in the Student-Athlete Mentors organization, you get to interact with such amazing people from every sport. In particular, our SAM council has become an amazingly close group, almost like a family, ever since we conducted our first mental health ‘campfire’ meeting together. It is always great to see each other around grounds, root each other on during competitions, and between all that, we try to catch up at least every month for group dinners. Those relationships have become such a special part of my UVA experience, feeling like I have people both on and outside my team that I can always go to. If I had to pick a favorite, I will go with UVA softball, getting to root for Molly and Rachel Keshin, two fourth-year sisters on the team who actually have gone to school with me in New Canaan since we were little. It has been awesome to share this long journey from our hometown through UVA with the Keshins. They are such amazing people and incredible friends to have outside my team.
Q: The place you miss most on Grounds?
Appelt: The Rotunda. During semester, I frequently find myself walking back from class and stopping by the Rotunda to do homework on the steps and look out on the Lawn. It is particularly beautiful in the winter at night when all the Christmas lights are up and the stars are out.
Q: During this time away from Charlottesville and UVA, have you picked up anything new that you always wanted to try?
Appelt: During the first part of quarantine, I was able to spend time with my little sister working on small-canvas painting. Most of my first attempts were about as horrible as you’d expect, but I actually managed to produce some pieces that I really liked, such as the new Lumineers album cover.
Q: Have you been binge-watching anything since you have been home?
Appelt: With more time on the hands than I have had in a very long time, I’ve gone back and started watching some of my favorite shows from my childhood, such as Scooby Doo and Avatar: The Last Airbender. I think I finished Avatar all over again in about four days, and was equally if not more obsessed than I was as a kid, which certainly brought and warranted some teasing from my family.
Q: To close, now that you are at home what has been your go-to meal?
Appelt: My favorite meal around my area is from a place in South Norwalk, Conn., called Mecha Noodle Bar, an Asian-fusion noodle house. They have the most amazing pho and ramen noodles and incredible dumplings and baos. My family over-orders every time, but we still manage to finish and all fall quickly into food comas afterwards.
EDITOR’S NOTE: During this time of non-competition, UVA athletics will be posting frequently on VirginiaSports.com to keep you up to date with the happenings, experiences and thoughts of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and alumni. We encourage Wahoo fans to share these links on your social media accounts for others to enjoy. We also suggest you follow the University’s website – news.virginia.edu – for more stories and information. #GoHoos