By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 12/7/08
John Christmas believes now is the time to commit to building lacrosse in the inner city.
Christmas announced Friday that he is taking off a year from the indoor Philadelphia Wings and will serve as co-director with fellow Philly pro player Eric Gregg to start a grassroots, non-profit program to build lacrosse in Philadelphia called Lacrosse, Education, Attitude, Perseverance and Success (LEAPS) .
“It’s good because a lot of people want to see this happen,” said Christmas. “It’s good that Eric and I are doing it on a few levels.
“First, we are young and energetic, and we have time on our hands to commit. We’re African Americans ourselves, and when we go to into an area the kids see us and can actually say, ‘My coach is a professional player.’ That’s a big part as well.
“The last thing going is bringing it into their environment and not displacing them, not pulling them away. (In the past) it’s been, ‘Here is lacrosse, come to the Main Line and play.’
“This time, we are going to them and hopefully the opportunities will allow them to leave their environment. Then, hopefully, they will come back and give back. If we work with a group of 30, and even just two kids can get into a school due to lacrosse, we’ve been successful.”
Both Christmas and Gregg have strong ties to the Philadelphia community. Christmas, 26, a three-time high school All-American who led Lower Merion High to the state title in 1999, has played three years with the Wings as well as three seasons with the outdoor Boston Cannons.
Gregg, 30, a backup goalie on the Philadelphia Barrage of the outdoor Major League Lacrosse for the past two years, is an Episcopal Academy grad who is starting his first year as head coach at Catholic League power St. Joseph’s Prep. Gregg also is the son of the late Eric Gregg, a popular umpire and city sports figure who died of a heart attack two years ago.
Christmas and Gregg will be announcing more details about the LEAPS program in the next few weeks. They have spent the past six months developing a mission and outline for their program, aimed at helping start youth lacrosse in the city while also working with recent efforts by a number of key players in local lacrosse.
In recent years, the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association (PLA) has committed a large amount of funds and time in working with Philadelphia Public League officials to start middle school lacrosse programs and train city coaches, The PLA also has worked with Drexel men’s coach Chris Bates – a PLA board member – and Temple women’s coach Bonnie Rosen as well as several other officials to build programs in the city.
Christmas, a two-time college All-American who helped Virginia to the 2003 national championship, said he and Gregg have met with the PLA and nearly all of the key officials who have been laying the foundation for lacrosse programs in the city. Christmas is pleased that he can use his schooling to give back to the community.
Christmas – who runs his own lacrosse training business, 141Lacrosse – said he has long been wanting to take a leading role in building lacrosse in the city. In fact, he had already done clinics in the city and worked programs with students with disabilities in a different non-profit program called Access Sports.
In the coming weeks, he and Gregg will be traveling to other major cities where inner-city lacrosse has flourished – such as New York and Boston – to speak with experts and further develop his plan and initiatives.
“I majored in sociology and Virginia and everybody asked me, ‘What do you do with that major?’” he said. “The real answer is that you go back to grad school and maybe get a doctorate.
“But to get to try to bring a sport like lacrosse – a non-traditional sport – and introduce it to the inner-city and see how it evolves and how it works and how it doesn’t is a great opportunity,” he said. “At the same time, we’ll have initiatives to achieve.”