The Wesley Chapel tourney is expected to raise more than $80,000 for the Derek Pieper Memorial Fund
By Kyle LoJacono
When Susan and Steve Wood watch lacrosse teams from across the Southeast play Nov. 20-21 in Wesley Chapel, the couple will be thinking about Derek Pieper.
“He got into a little trouble, but really you couldn’t have asked for a better kid,” said Susan, Pieper’s mother. “He tutored his teammates, worked and got mostly As in his high school and college classes he was taking at (Pasco-Hernando Community College). His faith was also very strong and now he is watching us all from heaven.”
Pieper and his friend, Raymond Veluz, were murdered in July 2006. Tyree Jenkins and Luc Pierre-Charles are both serving life sentences for the deaths.
According to court testimony, Pieper had previously bought drugs from Pierre-Charles, his classmate at Wesley Chapel High School, though it was unclear why he and Veluz were killed that night.
Pieper was a center for the Warriors, a lacrosse team in the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association (WCAA) for Wesley Chapel students. To remember him, the Derek Pieper Memorial Cup was established in 2006 at Wesley Chapel District Park, 7727 Boyette Road in Wesley Chapel.
Tom Fitzsimons, president of the WCAA, said the event was also started to increase lacrosse’s popularity in Florida.
“It has become the biggest lacrosse tournament in this part of the country each fall,” said Fitzsimons, who was also Pieper’s coach. “Four years ago when we started, we had 19 teams play. Then we had 36 and 53, and this year we have 89 teams signed up.”
While the event encourages participation in the game Pieper loved, it has also raised between $80,000 and $100,000 for the Derek Pieper Memorial Fund, according to Susan. Money from the trust goes to help needy families buy lacrosse equipment and to scholarships for the players.
Fitzsimons said the event also fills the area hotels and pumps money into the economy when all the teams coming from out of the area to participate.
Pieper only started playing lacrosse when he was in high school. He and his family moved to Pasco County from Minnesota in 2001. Despite his late adoption of the sport, he was good enough to receive several scholarship offers to play in college.
“He wanted to stay close to home because of my health,” said Steve, who is Pieper’s stepfather and raised him since age 3. “I’m disabled and have a lot of problems with my immune system and he wanted to make sure he went to a school close by. He was planning on going to Saint Leo (University) even though bigger schools were recruiting him.”
Fitzsimons said Pieper was still learning the game, but his athletic ability made him one of the better players on the team. He was looking forward to seeing what the center could have done in his senior year.
“Derek was a heart and soul kid,” Fitzsimons said. “He’d be the kid to pull someone aside and give them a pick-me-up talk if they were having a bad day. He wasn’t a hug in-your-face kind of presence, but if you don’t have a kid like that your team suffers and we did the next year. There was a physical and huge emotional hole.”
Spots in the tournament are filling up, so any team interested in signing up should visit www.wclacrosse.org.
The Woods are looking for a full house at the event.
“Derek’s legacy lives on in the event,” Susan said. “It’s wonderful that they have the event each year in his honor. They also retired his number 11 after he died and that’s just another way for people to remember Derek.”