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Siena lacrosse players promote use of defibrillators to honor a late friend

By Pete Iorizzo, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, March 25, 2007

LOUDONVILLE – Matt Donovan’s left leg bears the tattoo of a cross, a symbol to celebrate his friend’s life and mourn his death.

Brian Cordts taps the goalpost 12 times before every lacrosse game, because his friend wore that number right up until the day he died playing the sport he loved.

Donovan and Cordts charted similar paths to the men’s lacrosse team: Both starred at Northport High, on Long Island. Both bounced through colleges and junior colleges. Both settled in Loudonville, where they are helping revitalize the Saints’ lacrosse program.

And both pursue their sport for the same purpose — to honor their friend and Northport teammate, whose death seven years ago today at first left a community grief-stricken, then made it the front line of a battle to save lives.

“Everything I do in lacrosse, it’s for him,” said Donovan, a senior attackman.

Donovan’s friend, Louis Acompora, was just 14 years old and playing for the Northport freshman team when a freak accident took his life.

A shot struck Acompora, a goalie, in the chest at the precise instant his heart rested between beats. Acompora corralled the ball, flung it back into play, then collapsed in cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Acompora’s parents later learned the rare condition that led to Louis Acompora’s death is called commotio cordis; it occurs when a person suffers a blow to the chest between heart beats. If Northport had had defibrillators nearby, Louis Acompora might have been saved.

Within weeks, his parents, John and Karen, established the Louis Acompora Foundation. Its primary mission is the passage of laws to require that every school have a defibrillator. Two years after Louis Acompora died, New York became the first state to pass such a law. By John Acompora’s count, the law has saved at least 30 lives.

John Acompora credits Louis’ friends and teammates, like Cordts and Donovan, for helping publicize the foundation’s mission.

“To convey how special it is that Matt and Brian are keeping Louis alive by stepping on the field is just impossible,” John Acompora said.

Donovan and Cordts, in turn, credit Louis Acompora for their lacrosse careers.

Cordts played baseball until ninth grade, even though Louis Acompora always insisted, “Come give lacrosse a try.” On the day Louis Acompora died, Cordts learned he failed to make Northport’s baseball team. Within days, he had joined the lacrosse squad.

Despite the circumstances of Louis Acompora’s death, Cordts later became a goalie, in part to honor his friend.

“My mom and dad, they both had concerns about me hopping into net,” Cordts said. “But I just felt like if Lou were to pick a place to pass, that would have been where he wanted to go.”

The Northport freshman team canceled its next two games after Louis Acompora died, because it had no other goalie. Believing his friend would have wanted Northport to continue playing, Donovan volunteered to play goalie until a replacement could be found.

The team finished the season with a 3-10 record.

“It didn’t matter,” Donovan said. “We weren’t playing for wins. We were playing for Louis.”

From Northport, where they won a state championship and at one time ranked No. 1 in the country, Donovan and Cordts skipped through several colleges and junior colleges. Cordts started at Cabrini College, then transferred to Suffolk Community College. Donovan started at the University at Albany, transferred to Stony Brook, then moved to Suffolk before settling at Siena.

“Louis aspired to play at a good college,” Donovan said. “We kind of took it upon ourselves to do it for him. We wanted to play at the highest level we could for him.”

They have succeeded at Siena.

Donovan, at just 5 feet, 9 inches and 155 pounds, led the nation last year in assists. He paces the Saints (2-3) this year with 13 assists and is second with 19 points.

Cordts, whom former Northport coach Bob Macaluso called “a phenomenal athlete,” started two of the first five games in goal. He led Siena to a 15-2 win over Merrimack on March 10.

“They’re inspired by the memory of Louis Acompora,” Macaluso said.

The Louis Acompora Memorial Foundation continues to push for defibrillator laws in more states. The Northport school district was first to implement a defibrillator program. Now, laws are either in effect or being considered in Ohio, California, Delaware and Florida.

Donovan and Cordts continue to honor their friend’s memory in subtle ways. Donovan wears socks with the No. 12. Cordts gestures to the sky and says a prayer before each game.

Cordts, a sophomore, wears No. 2 this season, because another player already wears Acompora’s number.

“But I’ll be 12 next year,” Cordts said. “You can be sure of that.”

Iorizzo can be reached at 454-5425 or by e-mail @   

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