VANCOUVER - When the request came by e-mail, Brad Knighton did not hesitate to respond.
As a result, the Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper will be part of a large contingent of MLS players putting on a soccer clinic Monday for survivors of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"It's an absolute tragedy, and to go in there and put on a clinic for those kids and get their minds off what happened is something I wanted to be a part of," said Knighton.
Whitecaps winger Omar Salgado will also be among 35 MLS players taking part in the event dubbed Soccer Night in Newtown. Other MLS players slated to attend include such stars as Dwayne De Rosario, a Toronto native, of D.C. United, Landon Donovan of the MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes' Marcus Tracy, a Newtown product whose mother once taught at Sandy Hook.
Toronto FC is sending Brampton, Ont., native Quillan Roberts, while the Montreal Impact will be represented by Troy Perkins.
Current and former U.S. men's and women's national team members are also expected to take part. American women's legends Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Christie Rampone are listed among the participants.
The event, slated to include a penalty-kick demonstration area, mini-games and autograph sessions, among other activities, will be open to Newtown residents and members of the town's youth soccer club.
"We're trying to help this community of 27,000 or 29,000 end its suffering and rebuild," said Knighton, a 27-year-old Hickory, N.C., native who grew up in Richmond, Va.
On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza, 20, went to Sandy Hook and shot and killed 20 children, along with six staff members. The shooting incident occurred after Lanza shot and killed his mother, a teacher, at their home.
The tragedy affected Knighton as a father first, because he and his wife Britney have a 14-month-old daughter, Olivia. Knighton dreads the idea that he would one day go to pick up his daughter at school and not be able to bring her home because of a shooting incident.
Too many shootings at malls and schools, including the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, have been allowed to occur in the U.S., he said. A school, he added, should be one of the safest places where kids can go and learn.
"There's no reason why a kid should come to a school with an assault weapon and shoot up an entire school," said Knighton, who is calling for increased gun control in the U.S. and more law enforcement officers in American schools.
The shooting incident also resonated with Salgado, a 19-year-old El Paso, Tex., native, because he is close in age to the shooter.
"It's something that you never thought could happen," said Salgado. "It's a tragic event. … I was devastated that it happened."
The incident also struck home with Salgado because his father was shot twice in the back during a robbery while coming out of his store in Juarez, Mexico a number of years ago.
"I actually don't remember it," said Salgado. "We don't really talk about it."
Salgado, extremely popular with young Whitecaps fans, is looking forward to going to Newtown and just having fun with the kids, putting a smile on their faces and helping them forget what happened.
"Any sport can help them get their mind off what happened," he said.
At times like this, Knighton added, soccer can galvanize a community as it attempts to cope with its grief. He noted the world's game has been used to help unite warring and fighting sides in other conflict-torn countries in the past.
Knighton is glad to be part of an event where kids will get a rare chance to meet superstars that they idolize.
"(The memory of Monday's event) is probably going to last a lifetime," he said.
Knighton is also proud to do his part for a troubled community.
"It's something I didn't think twice about doing," he said.
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