SARASOTA — Not many spectators at Tuesday night’s Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School lacrosse game recognized one of the opposing team’s coaches.

Andrew Pollack, donning a collared St. Thomas Aquinas High School lacrosse shirt, blended in with the huddle of other similarly dressed coaches of the Fort Lauderdale varsity team, with whom he discussed strategy on the sidelines a few minutes before game time. But a closer look into Pollack’s eyes reveals profound pain none of his peers bear.

Pollack’s only daughter, Meadow, 18, was gunned down in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre on Feb. 14 in Parkland. She was one of 17 students and teachers slain at the hands of a former 19-year-old student. Pollack has made the media rounds since that earth-shattering day, meeting with President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott, advocating for school security with the hope he’d be the final father to lose a child in a school shooting.

Before the game, Pollack, 52, praised Sarasota County schools for stationing a school resource officer at every elementary school. Pollack pushed for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law by Scott last month requiring a safe-school officer at each school in the state.

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“I’m happy about it … It’s not about the guns right now. Let’s fix the schools,” Pollack told the Herald-Tribune. “Finally people are listening, and that’s what Americans what. They want their kids to be safe at school.”

Pollack said it isn’t about guns because the gun debate will likely rage on for decades while vulnerable school children are targeted.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s achievable. When I get involved with something, I like to know that I can get it done,” Pollack said. “That’s a battle I choose not to fight, and I think that as a country, everyone wants their kids safe at schools, so why not get into something that everybody wants where there’s not a fight? Gun control — they’ll be fighting over that for another 200 years after I’m dead.”

Now that Florida is securing its schools, Pollack is bringing “Meadow’s Movement” to the other 49 states. If he has to attend school board meetings and legislative sessions across the country, he will, Pollack said.

While there is sadness in his eyes, there’s also a fire behind it, fueled by his daughter’s memory.

“No one should have to deal with what I got,” Pollack said. “You drop your kid off at 8 a.m. at school, you should know that you’re picking them up at 3:30 p.m. when the bell rings — not what happened to me.”

The White House is on Pollack’s side in his crusade for school safety, the grieving father said. Trump’s school safety commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly met privately last week. The commission is expected to consider several issues related to school safety, including considering whether to ban gun sales for people under 21, a potential repeal of President Barack Obama-era guidelines on school discipline and whether video games contribute to childhood violence.

“He was concerned. He wanted to know how my family is doing, how my ex-wife was,” Pollack said of a private meeting he had with the president shortly after the shooting. “He met with me just like another parent or a grandfather.”

His fight to secure schools is what keeps him going, Pollack said.

“It’s not easy, but I feel like I have an obligation to do this so someone else doesn’t have to feel like I do,” he said.

Pollack also is raising money on his newly formed website, RememberMeadow.com, to build a playground in Coral Springs memorializing his daughter. Meadow was to attend college this year and had aspirations of becoming an attorney.

“She was a strong, independent, confident girl that was capable of getting anything done,” Pollack said with a twinkle in his eye. “There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. She was very humble, too. How pretty she was — she was friendly to everybody, smiled and was a down to earth, regular girl.”

“She lives on forever inside of me,” a visibly pained Pollack said.

Pollack and two other fathers who lost children in the shooting recently were appointed to a 16-member state commission charged with investigating the massacre. With the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the commission has the authority to review normally confidential records and can subpoena witnesses. Pollack enters the commission suspecting the FBI, Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County School District share fault in failing to prevent the massacre.

“It was incompetence that killed my daughter, and we need to be serious on school security,” Pollack said. “When you go to the airport, you have to take your shoes off to get on a plane, but you can walk into a school with a rifle. Something’s not right.”

The FBI has admitted to mishandling a tipster’s warning about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz. And Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said his office responded to 23 calls about incidents related to Cruz. Cruz is awaiting trial for the murders and faces the death penalty.

“Death by lethal injection is too easy … I’d rather see him rot in jail,” said Pollack, who fears footage of his daughter’s murder will be made public during Cruz’s trial.

Sarasota County Commission candidate Christian Ziegler is working with Pollack in his campaign to secure schools. Ziegler, a Republican, is providing Pollack with advice on how to navigate government and maximize his message.

“There’s nothing more important than school security,” Ziegler said. “It’s one of the rare issues that all sides can come together on.”

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(c)2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

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