Nyack (N.Y.) Lacrosse Community Channels ‘Staciness’ in Memory of 9/11 Victim

To recognize the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we are sharing several stories throughout this week that capture the lives and legacies of the people, families and communities impacted most.

THE ESSAY QUESTION on the Stacey Sennas McGowan Memorial Foundation scholarship application contains only six words.

“What does Staciness mean to you?”

“Every senior who applies has a different definition,” said Fran Sennas, Stacey’s mother. “But it all comes around to love, respect and picking someone up when they fall.”

“It’s a set of values and attributes for these young girls to strive towards,” said Laura Graham, who used to coach the Nyack (N.Y.) High School JV girls’ lacrosse team and helped established the foundation, which since 2002 has given over $25,000 in scholarships to college-bound female lacrosse players.

No occasion better embodies those attributes than the Stacey Sennas Memorial Games. Since 2004, they have taken place at Nyack on the Saturday of Mother’s Day Weekend. What started out as a varsity and alumni game grew into an all-day event. It consists of a K-2 clinic followed by youth, modified team and JV games and is capped by the varsity contest—the RedHawks’ only home game of the season played under the lights.

On May 8 at Ritterhausen Field along the banks of the Hudson River, Nyack defeated Pearl River 17-6 in the 17th iteration.

“The game brings out the best of our student-athletes and our opponents as well,” said Joe Sigillo, director of physical education, health, wellness and athletics at Nyack. “It’s a celebration of not only Stacey, but the game of women’s lacrosse.”


A standout and captain of Nyack’s inaugural girls’ lacrosse team, McGowan went on to become a four-year starter at Boston College and captain her senior year in 1985 before she embarked on a distinguished career in finance. As a managing director for Sandler O’Neill & Partners, McGowan oversaw the firm’s equities trading desk on the 104th floor of 2 World Trade Center. She was one of the 2,996 victims in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She would have turned 58 last month.

“It describes the highest standard of happiness, the greatest feeling of joy, the most exuberant expression of fun and the deepest understanding of acceptance,” UBS chief marketing officer and BC alum Pat Corry said of “Staciness” before more than 1,000 people who attended Sennas McGowan’s wake on Sept. 28, 2001.

Twenty Years Gone

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Nyack (N.Y.) Lacrosse and the Power of ‘Staciness’

“Hers was a hug that would essentially render every other hug you’ll ever receive in your entire life a complete insult to hugging.”

“Feel the Spirit,” the motto of the Stacey Sennas McGowan Memorial Foundation, is also the order of the day of the games. The crowd size grows throughout the afternoon, as those who play in earlier games stick around to watch the teams they’ll be a part of in the future. “The goal is really to create a spirit of community through lacrosse,” said Phyllis Fischer, a board member of the foundation and good friend of Sennas McGowan.

Fischer couldn’t attend the game in 2019 because her daughter, Katherine, a Nyack alum, had a second- round NCAA tournament game with Denver at Michigan. Separated by more than 620 miles on that afternoon at U-M Lacrosse Stadium, the emotions were still very near. “I can feel it,” she texted Graham throughout the day.

“You could feel what was happening at home,” said Fischer, her voice catching. “As I watched my daughter and Denver win, I really did feel like Staciness was alive.”

Sennas McGowan’s daughters, Ryan and Casey, were 5 and 4 years old, respectively, when she died. They played in one of the first SSM Games on the HotShot Lacrosse Team. Fran Sennas, who served as a lacrosse official for 35 years, reffed that game along with countless other at MacCalman Field — where her daughter used to play. Ryan and Casey McGowan later graduated from Boston College, where their parents met. Ryan has the roman numerals IX.XI tattooed on the back of her neck.

“I can say with complete certainty that the driving force in my life is the influence of my mother,” Casey McGowan wrote in her college essay according to a Boston Globe article from 2015. “I will never stop believing she is with me.”

This spring was the first SSM Games that Fran and Semo Sennas, Stacey’s father, did not attend in person. They both graduated from Nyack in 1959. Semo died suddenly Nov. 18, 2019. Fran streamed the game since her son, Chris, a four-year starter at Roanoke in the 1980s, was battling liver cancer. He died May 24 at age 54.

“Maybe she and her brother are playing lacrosse in heaven,” Fran Sennas said. “That’s a good thought. They did that when they were little and they’re still doing it up there.”

Fran Sennas’ favorite memories of the SSM Games are usually not the contests themselves, but rather the little moments in and around them. There’s the arrival of the varsity team every year, who try to surprise her. There’s the dinner the night before for the JV and varsity teams that many times morphed into a dance party. Fran addressed the teams. She’d tell stories about her daughter, but also talk strategy. The teams then received small gifts like sunglasses, a water bottle or light-up earrings.

The items are always a fluorescent yellow — the official color of the SSM Games.

“It’s very fitting that it’s that bright yellow color,” said Nyack varsity head coach Kathryn Perrella, who captained the team her senior year in 1997 and played at Notre Dame. “When you see that bright yellow, it just makes you smile.”

The players wear yellow ribbons adorned with an SSM logo in their hair during the games. You can tell how many times someone has participated in the event by the number of yellow ribbons attached to her backpack. Spend enough time around Nyack — the Rockland County village 30 miles north of New York City that’s just above the Tappan Zee Bridge — and you’ll likely spot one hanging on a car’s rearview mirror.

All those in attendance one year received five-inch lengths of yellow ribbon.  

“Just stick it in your pocket,” Graham instructed everyone she handed them to. “One day you’ll come across it and it will make you happy when you find it.”


Fran Sennas, Stacey’s mother and a longtime lacrosse official, ties a yellow ribbon to a Nyack (N.Y.) youth girls’ lacrosse player’s hair during the Stacey Sennas McGowan Memorial Games in 2016.

The spirit of the event is a fitting tribute to Sennas McGowan, who possessed the rare ability to turn any occasion into a celebration. “Hers was a hug that would essentially render every other hug you’ll ever receive in your entire life a complete insult to hugging,” Corry said in her eulogy.

Sennas McGowan was the type of person who would stage an impromptu dace party during a finals study session at Nyack to dissipate everyone’s stress, then get an A on the test the next day. Who less than two weeks after she found out a colleague on the equities trading desk’s first Grateful Dead concert was at the Boston Garden on May 7, 1977, tracked down and gave him a cassette tape of the first set from that performance.

“I was in awe of her and to this day, she continues to be the epitome of how women on Wall Street should be,” Blythe Berents, vice president at Merrill Edge in Boston, wrote in the guestbook on Sennas McGowan’s 9/11 Living Memorial page.

On the day internet banking was unveiled, Sennas McGowan traded millions of shares. She never once left her post. “It was her nature as a fighter to complete the task in front of her and not give up,” Edward Jones financial advisor and BC alum Neil Kirk, who worked on the equities desk at Sander O’Neill from 1998-2000, recalled in his blog titled “Vinyl Magic.”

“She simply would not, could not stop,” Kirk continued. “The tumultuous activity did exact a physical toll, however, as Stacey experienced horrific back spasms after the market closed and she was taken out of the office by way of stretcher after a visit with EMTs. As expected, she returned to her post the next day to continue trading.”

Graham saw that resilience and calm demeanor up close when she played with Sennas McGowan on the inaugural girls’ lacrosse team at Nyack in 1977 — five years after Title IX passed. They used to braid each other’s hair before games. One of only two teams in Rockland County, they’d have to travel to Westchester and other neighboring counties to find competition. A multi-sport athlete who played tennis and was an accomplished swimmer, Sennas McGowan soon distinguished herself on the lacrosse field too.

“Even at that young age we could feel that this was growing and we were part of it,” Graham said. “We were in the front seat of that bus.”