West Genesee hosts more than 700 for Mike Messere's final send-off

Former West Genesee head boys lacrosse coach Mike Messere applauds some of his former players during Saturday night's send-off event.

Mike Messere's legendary run at West Genesee high school came to an appropriate conclusion from the SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College on Saturday night.

In an event that's been planned since January, more than 700 people showed up to bid farewell to a living legend.

Several of Messere's former players and coaches over the years attended the event, which began with a 7-minute video with a variety of the area's top lacrosse coaches sharing their memories of facing Messere on the field.

"Anywhere these guys eventually went in their lives, if there was lacrosse, they made it better," Messere answered when asked how proud he is of his former players. "If there wasn't any lacrosse, they built a program. It's just amazing what they've done. They whole crew, it's a team. It's a great community, and [they're] just super kids. Again, just to see their babies -- they come with their babies and they tell me what they've done with their lives, where they're at, and I'm just amazed, blown away by it."

It's all part of a big lacrosse weekend in Camillus, headlined by the 17th annual John Pepper Memorial Lacrosse Tournament, attracting teams from across New York State to play in the two-day slate of games.

John Pepper was a former West Genesee JV lacrosse player who tragically lost his life in 2001 due to a car accident.

"John [Pepper] was a classmate of my son's," tournament volunteer coordinator Mike Solamon explained. "He would've graduated in 2003 when my son graduated. This is a great way to memorialize him, and it's funny because it's not just known as a tournament -- everybody asks, 'Are you going to John Pepper? Are you going to John Pepper?' So, John Pepper -- that name will forever be ingrained into West Genesee lacrosse and Central New York history."

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