**Editor’s note: this article has been edited and/or updated for clarity.
In 1988, three gray whales were spotted trapped in the Beaufort Sea near Point Barrow, Alaska, surrounded by trapped snow that was nearly impossible to break through.
Surrounding villagers tried using chainsaws and water pumps (used to keep the ice from reforming overnight) to cut a path for the whales to escape through, but nothing worked. After gaining enough local attention, news of the trapped whales reached the United States Department of State, which requested the help of two then-Soviet Union Icebreakers to cut through the solid ice to free the whales. While the situation continued to unfold, a White House staffer made a call to the Brigadier General stationed in Alaska to inquire about the whales, and the two ended up falling in love over the phone. That was the moment Bonnie Carrol met her husband.
Sadly, Carroll’s love story with her husband was tragically cut short only four years later when his Army C-12 plane crashed, killing all the members on board. Grief-stricken, Carroll searched for support, but found no organization that was dedicated to providing comfort and proper care to grieving military families. To remedy that, Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to offer comfort and compassion to those grieving a military loss during a difficult time.
First launched in 1994, TAPS offers a range of support, which includes peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars for adults, healthy grief education for children (called Good Grief Camps), case work assistance, community-based care, and a 24/7 resource helpline.
In 2013, Carroll and her employee, Diana Hosford, traveled to Afghanistan to meet with Afghan widows to see how TAPS could better support the widows of those who had died working alongside the U.S. Military and the Allied forces. They were staying on base in Kabul when Hosford started reflecting on the powerful work they were doing, and what more they could do.
“I started thinking about how sports can create opportunities to unify people in a way that very few things really do,” Hosford said. “Sports have the power of bringing people together. So, on the flight home from Afghanistan, I told Bonnie I wanted to start a sports program and she said, ‘Go for it.’”
That November, teams4taps officially launched and successfully had its first event with the Washington Capitals. Since then, Hosford — now Vice President, Sports & Entertainment at TAPS — and teams4taps have worked with more than 200 teams across various leagues to give surviving military families the ability to “honor their fallen heroes in venues across the country.
“It's been an incredible journey to see the sports community engage and honor the families of the fallen,” Hosford said. “With team4taps, we've been able to create opportunities across America to allow survivors to honor and celebrate the life and service of their fallen heroes, and recognize the families left behind after sacrifice and service.”
To support and learn more about TAPS and its various programs, check out the website here.
Photo credits: Courtesy of TAPS’ Instagram, Diana Hosford