By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/13/09
John Christmas and Eric Gregg believe they have chosen the ideal time to make their first LEAPS toward building lacrosse in Philadelphia.
This Monday, on Martin Luther King Day, Christmas and Gregg will kick off their new grass-roots program designed to make lacrosse a viable city sport by running the 1st Annual MLK Day Lacrosse Tournament and Clinic Fundraiser at the Starfinder Foundation’s Urban Promise Center in Manayunk.
Last month Christmas and Gregg – each of whom are African Americans who come from the Philadelphia suburbs and play pro lacrosse in Philly – announced they were starting a non-profit program called Lacrosse, Education, Attitude, Perseverance and Success.
The LEAPS program was designed to make youth lacrosse programs accessible for city boys and girls and to help build high school programs in the Public League while also promoting positive off-the-field programs in academics and community service.
LEAPS is intended to build on continuing programs run by the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association (PLA), the Public League and the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF), headed by former Temple coach Tina Sloan Green.
This Monday’s event will feature approximately six boys’ youth teams (5th and 6th grade-level) fromPhiladelphia, the Philly suburbs and South Jersey. Each team will play three games and the tourney will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The teams will donate at least $500 to the LEAPS fund drive.
After the tournament, a free lacrosse clinic will be provided for at least 50 city youths, who will be transported in courtesy of LEAPS. The clinic is being run by Haverford College coach Mike Murphy and is expected to have several pro players assisting.
“Now is the right time and the perfect setting with what’s going on,” said Gregg. “With President (Barack) Obama being elected, we are trying to break down the whole stigma; the negative stereotype that lacrosse is only for elite white kids.
“It’s not true, and what better way to do but on the most celebrated days on the calendar year.”
Gregg said that the youth teams playing in the tournament are coming from Washington Township, N.J., Brandywine Youth Club (Garnet Valley), Ashbee (Lower Merion), Twist (Bucks County), the Northeast Lacrosse Club and the Philadelphia Youth Lacrosse All-Stars.
Most of the youths (K through 8) coming to the clinic will be from Overbrook, Mt. Airy, Roxborough as well asNorristown, Gregg said. Sloan Green is hoping to bring some of her girls who play in the after-school programs run by the BWSF. Haverford College is providing the transportation.
Gregg graduated from Episcopal Academy and played college lacrosse at Gettysburg. He was an assistant coach at Lower Merion and Penn Charter and this fall was named head coach at Catholic League power St. Joseph’s Prep.
Gregg, the son of the late Eric Gregg, a popular Philly sports figure who umpired in the major leagues, has played the last two years as a backup goalie for the outdoor pro team, the Philadelphia Barrage.
Christmas also has a strong lacrosse background. He was a three-time scholastic All-American (1999-2001) and a state champion at Lower Merion as well as a two-time college All-American and national champion atVirginia. He is taking off this year from the Philadelphia Wings to devote himself full-time with Gregg on the LEAPS project.
Both Christmas and Gregg have run their own lacrosse training businesses while also yearning to help get African American youths into the game, but they found that their clientele was limited to white players.
“We saw we were perpetuating exclusivity of the game,” Gregg said. “It was only the rich kids. John has stories where he would be training kids at Penn Charter and some CYO Youth basketball teams would be there.
“They’d say, ‘Oh cool, this lacrosse seems cool.’ A mother or father would come over and ask how much the training was and John would tell them and they’d say, “Whoa, we can’t afford that!’
Note: Donations can be made to LEAPS at lEAPS-RHD, PO Box 53315, Phila, PA 19105