NEWTOWN, Conn. — Newtown first-grader Katelyn Sullivan has been sleeping in her parents' bed since last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school.
Katelyn, who attends another school in town, knew seven of the victims. They were in her Sunday school or dance class, or just friends. But on this day, the 6-year-old wasn't thinking about bad men or death. She was meeting soccer stars such as Mia Hamm and Landon Donovan, and kicking a ball around the field at the Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center.
The best part was probably playing soccer, she said. I was playing with professional players, but I don't know who they were.
She just shrugged when her parents mentioned that one was Alexi Lalas, the retired star of the U.S. national team.
Since the tragedy, Katelyn and her two older brothers also have met members of the Harlem Globetrotters and the UConn men's basketball team. Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries picked Katelyn up at one event to help her dunk a basketball.
But what mattered to her parents was their children were having fun.
It's just been huge, said Joe Sullivan, Katelyn's father. It's a pick-me-up for the community and the kids to get back to a little bit of a sense of normalcy and to kind of take their minds off of everything that has happened.
The sports world began responding shortly after the 20 children and six adults were killed inside the school Dec. 14.
New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz came to play tag football and video games with the family and friends of victim Jack Pinto, after learning the 6-year-old shooting victim was to be buried in a replica of Cruz's jersey. The Giants later hosted families from Sandy Hook at a game.
I didn't want to go in there and make a speech, Cruz said. I just wanted to go and spend some time with them and be someone they could talk to, and be someone they can vent to, talk about how much of a fan they are of the team, or different times they watched the Super Bowl.
Later in the month, NBA and NHL stars helped lead a series of clinics and games for Newtown children at the Chelsea Piers sports center in nearby Stamford. Pro Lacrosse players did the same in Newtown.
And college hockey players from the University of New Haven came to help staff the center when it opened its doors to Newtown children to come in and play.
The media has been barred from most of the events.
We made sure everyone understood that if they were coming, they had to be playing with the kids, said Kaki Taylor, who helped organize the events at the youth academy. This isn't a public relations opportunity. It's about the kids. Everyone has been great about that.
Gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman visited the center and a local gymnastics school, where one little girl told her it was the best day of her life.
A lot of the kids who died were young gymnasts, so I felt like I had connection to them, Raisman said. It was such an easy thing to do to go and hang out with them. It made me feel really good to do something for them.
Peter D'Amico, who owns the youth center, said he's taken calls from pro and college teams from all over. Some have offered free equipment, others want to invite the kids to games, still others want to come to town to hold events such as last week's MLS-sponsored Soccer Day in Newtown. The evening of autographs and games included 40 players and more than 1,000 kids.