BY ANDRE C. FERNANDEZ MIAMI HERALD WRITER
MARCH 19, 2021 11:20 AM
If you’ve been to Westminster Christian or attended a lacrosse match there or in the South Florida community over the past year, it’s likely you’ve seen the abbreviation “LA6” somewhere.
It’s painted on the lacrosse field at the school.
It’s displayed on the backs of the Warriors’ jerseys and written on their gear. It’s printed on shirts and hoodies and masks worn by the students around campus.
It’s even found its way onto the helmets of players from rival schools like Columbus.
When Alex Alvarez sees the two-letter, one-number acronym honoring the memory of his oldest son, Lucas, with his initials and the number he wore when he played lacrosse, it’s easy to get emotional.
Instead, Alvarez takes it as a sign that his son’s presence can still be felt.
“He lives,” Alvarez said. “That’s it, plain and simple. His spirit is everywhere. You see it everywhere. It’s embedded in the culture now at Westminster Christian.”
On Feb. 16, 2020, while cruising on a boat with two friends, 18-year-old Lucas Alvarez was killed in a crash near the Florida Keys.
Alvarez, a beloved senior captain on the Warriors’ boys’ lacrosse team, was getting ready for the 2020 season.
But tragedy struck that late Sunday afternoon when, according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the boat struck a channel marker and all three occupants were thrown from the vessel. The other two teens escaped without serious injury. Alvarez, however, suffered trauma to his lower torso and was pronounced dead upon arrival to Mariners Hospital.
“It just hit everyone super hard,” Westminster Christian lacrosse coach Steven Hernandez said. “Everyone was a mess.”
Hernandez and his players gathered at the school to try to come to grips with what had happened.
They weren’t alone.
Family, friends and students came together in prayer to grieve together over the next hours and days.
“Little by little, kid after kid showed up until about two hours later the whole high school was there,” Hernandez said. “There’s never been a death that caused so much of a response from people from ours and other schools. The church [the day of the funeral] was full.”
It took over a week for the Warriors to get back to practice after Alvarez’s death.
When they did, Hernandez said he began noticing coincidences begin to happen with the number 6 that Alvarez wore.
“Our first game back was a home game against Gulliver and that was very emotional,” Hernandez said. “They beat us by 6 goals. And the next day, the first goal scored by our girls’ lacrosse team in their first ever game was scored by a player wearing number 6.”
Alvarez’s younger brother, Lance, now wears the number 6 in his brother’s honor. Lance, a sophomore attacker, transferred from Columbus this season and is one of the key players for a Warriors team led by sophomore defenseman Ryan Penton, a team captain.
The Warriors also only played six games before the pandemic canceled the season.
Penton and his teammates want to continue to honor Lucas’ memory in their first full season since his passing.
Hernandez said the Warriors plan to retire Alvarez’s number after Lance graduates in two years.
“I think about him every day,” Penton said. “I was really close to him and my older brother was his best friend. That senior class was really close to him. It was very heavy on us.”
A lover of antique cars and trucks, Alvarez had developed a passion for mechanics and was planning to attend the Universal Technical Institute in Orlando.
Since he was a kid, Alvarez was always around cars and trucks especially when it came to a collection of antiques owned by his father and uncles. But it wasn’t just looking at them or riding in them that fascinated Alvarez, it was figuring out how they all worked.
Alvarez’s favorite was a 1957 Chevy 3100 pickup truck he loved working on.
“He was an amazing artist and creator and natural engineer,” Alvarez’s father said. “Anything mechanical since an early age, he could figure out. He liked seeing how things function. We nurtured that and encouraged it. When he was old enough to realize he had a talent for all things mechanics he realized he wanted to do that.”
Alvarez’s creativity wasn’t limited to automobiles though.
He used his skills to help as he did in the summer of 2019 when he took a trip with Blue Missions to the Dominican Republic where he helped construct water lines that brought clean water to the village of Piedra Azul.
“He was amazing and different,” Alvarez’s father said. “He was crazy and quirky and cool and loving at the same time.”
One of Alvarez’s goals was to one day open his own shop one day where he could restore antique vehicles.
Soon after Alvarez’s death, a GoFundMe was started to raise money to support his family. As a way to honor their son, Alvarez’s father and mother, Liz, decided to use the funds raised to establish the “LA6” Foundation, which would grant a scholarship annually for underprivileged students who shared similar passions as Alvarez in order to give them the opportunity to pursue them.
The first scholarship was awarded last year to the Automotive Technician Training Program at Universal Technical Institute.
The first recipient was an amazing story himself.
Through the Be The Light Foundation — established in honor of the late former Columbus student Ari Arteaga — the Alvarez’s found out about a 19-year-old homeless boy from Homestead who had been living out of abandoned cars for over a year. The boy expressed a desire to attend a mechanic school and the Alvarez’s were able to assist in getting him enrolled at UTI and he has since begun virtual classes.
Even with the ongoing pandemic, the LA6 Foundation has raised funds through sales of masks, stickers, hoodies, shirts and other items.
Alvarez said there are plans for a lacrosse tournament in Lucas’ honor as well as other larger events.
“The sense of community his passing brought afterwards was amazing,” Hernandez said. “He was a great kid and came from a great family. His impact is still being felt.”
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