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Special report on the push for city lacrosse, Part 3: A future goal of seeing the sport flourish

Friday, 20th March 2009

Categories Boy's/Men's, Features, Girl's/Women's  

Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series analyzing the current push to expand lacrosse programs in the city of Philadelphia. Today’s story focuses on the future goals to build city lacrosse programs.

By Chris Goldberg, Posted 3/20/09

Spring is arriving and the sounds of lacrosse balls being cradled and whipped toward the goal reverberate all over the city of Philadelphia.

Hundreds of high school boys and girls are gearing for a new season of Public League lacrosse while dozens of middle school teams are just about to begin playing in a widely successful grass-roots program. College coaches are making their way to recruit a new crop of minority players in Philadelphia where youths have found a new outlet to get off the streets and find a positive direction.

During the weekends, youth programs have sprung up in many parts of the city, allowing young boys and girls to learn this new sport of lacrosse that everyone is talking about.

Can it be done? Yes, with hard work, funding, leadership and patience

No, the rosy picture above is not yet true. But does this scenario sound so implausible?

According to many Philadelphia lacrosse officials, the idea of having a full league of Public League teams, the existence of a strong middle school program and the presence of youth programs in all regions of the city is quite attainable. It will take much funding and development, a lot of hard work and continued leadership from many teachers, coaches and lacrosse officials.

But it can happen.

The first step was made when FitzSimons High began this year as the first Public League boys’ varsity program. The school, coached by lacrosse mentor Evan Scott, has 22 players on its roster and will play a JV schedule.

The story behind FitzSimons is indicative of the type of efforts that have helped set the wheels in motion for the push to get lacrosse in the city.

The team evolved from the Philadelphia Middle Years (middle school) program, which is entering its fourth year of play. Several of the top players on the FitzSimons team have stuck with the sport and moved up from the middle school team – exactly what was hoped for when the league was launched.

The Middle Grades program has been mostly funded by the local lacrosse governing board, the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association (PLA),

which has provided over $34,000 to outfit the teams with equipment. The PLA, long known for supporting new lacrosse programs throughout the Eastern half of the state, pitched in again recently with another strong effort.

Just over a month ago, it was learned that the FitzSimons team did not have enough funding for new equipment such as sticks, gloves, helmets and pads. In just two weeks time, the PLA was able to raise more than $5,000 in funds and donations to fully outfit 25 members of the FitzSimons squad.

Much of the equipment, according to PLA president Dan Altschuler, came from STX and a local sales rep,Todd Schreiner, a Lower Merion graduate who himself excelled in scholastic and college lacrosse.

Many area programs also committed funds or equipment to the cause, called “The Friends of FitzSimons.” They include Lax4Lives, Ashbee Youth Lacrosse, Conestoga High School Lacrosse Boosters Club, Conestoga Youth Lacrosse, Haven Youth Lacrosse, Radnor High lacrosse and the Immaculata College men’s lacrosse team. Credit also goes to Friends’ Central coach JB Bowie, who has served as a liaison to the Middle years program and especially to Scott and his team by delivering equipment and using his players as mentors.

“I think that what really struck me was the amazing, rallying effort,” said Altschuler, who along with PLA board member Scott Growney led the fund drive. “The program has come so far that we’ve gotten to the point where there’s a school competing in the PIAA for the first time.

“The support from the PLA board and the community was overwhelming. Everybody wants to see this (Philadelphia high school program) become a success and we don’t want to take a step back.

“It was so dramatic. What this means is that there are 25 kids who almost didn’t have a season, and now they are going to be the inaugural; team in what hopefully will blossom this sport in the city of Philadelphia.”

Scott said his FitzSimons team has 22 players on the roster, mostly freshmen and sophomores. He has no real field and will play all away games, starting at Malvern Prep on March 24. All Scott wants to see is his players grow and improve, and learn to be competitors.

“If we can get this core group going, they will flourish,” he said. “We have three players from the middle school program, but mostly our kids are infants as far as bringing the ball up the field.”

In the first two stories of this series, looked at both theearly programs (Part 1) and more recent programs (Part 2) that were developed to provide youths with the chance to play lacrosse in the city. Many efforts were made by Tina Sloan Green, President of the Black Women in Sport Foundation,women’s leaders Bonnie Rosen (Temple head coach) and Cathy D’Ignazio (long-time lacrosse coach and organizer) as well as Chris Bates (Drexel men’s coach) andRay Jones (PLA official).

Sloan Green, Rosen and D’Ignazio have helped develop training programs for coaches and teachers in hopes of integrating lacrosse in the physical education curriculum. Rick Howard, the city’s middle school athletic director, is coordinating these and other efforts to provide training and leadership so students can be introduced to the sport and teachers are skilled in delivering proper instruction.

LEAPS, Phila. Lacrosse Foundation look to the future by starting city youth lacrosse programs

As previously reported, there is much happening today to bring lacrosse into the city. John Christmas and Eric Gregg, two African American Philadelphia natives who have gone on to become pro players, recently started working full-time as co-directors of a non-profit organization calledLEAPS.

LEAPS (Leadership, Education, Attitude, Perseverance and Success) is designed to develop programs for youth and beyond in the city. LEAPS has created youth programs for boys and girls in Ardmore, Overbrook and Germantown as part of the Philadelphia United Lacrosse League. More than 50 youths are participating, and the goal is for the programs to began play next year in the well-established Southeastern Pennsylvania Youth Lacrosse Association. (SEPYLA).

Gregg said that that at weekly sessions youths also get support in academics and nutrition. UrsinusCollege, which has adopted the Germantown program, participated in their first coaching clinic with the young players Tuesday night at the Simons Recreational Center. Haverford College has adopted the Ardmore program; a college is being sought to adopt the Overbrook program.

The LEAPS program has several other programs in the developmental stage. LEAPS also is planning to give clinics or presentations for at least three Philadelphia Public schools and to assist in training teachers and coaches.

Ursinus College coach Glenn Carter said the idea of adopting a youth team in the city benefits everyone involved in lacrosse.

“It’s a great benefit to help kids that don’t have the means today to play lacrosse because of economics,” said Carter. “For our players, who have the means, they need to understand the importance of community service.”

Bill Malizia, who graduated from Roman Catholic and was coach at Roman from 1998-2000, is another local lacrosse enthusiast hoping to bring the sport into the city.  Malizia recently launched the Philadelphia Lacrosse Foundation, which was created to start youth lacrosse programs for boys and girls throughout the city.
Malizia has started a program in Roxborough and has partnered with the women’s program at PhiladelphiaUniversity for help in coaching. He said 20 boys and girls are participating. Malizia is seeking volunteers to help start more programs.

“My goal in this foundation is to promote the game of lacrosse in every area of the city,” he said. “I want to pick up the missing pieces Philadelphia.”

Malizia, like others, says the key is getting city youths exposed to lacrosse, a sport they may never have seen before.

“We just need to get them out there and involved,” he said. “They may know it from a distance. They don’t understand the game. They are afraid of it; they see all these rules and terms and they don’t know anyone who plays it.”

Looking at the future: Coordinating all efforts to make it work 

Many people are working hard to bring more effective lacrosse programs into the city. The question remains as to whether the various attempts can be coordinated well enough to make it work and bring high school programs that can stick and youth programs to all parts of the city.

David Martin, the head coach atGermantown Academy and the area representative for US Lacrosse, believes he has the idea that can make it happen.

Martin has run several programs and clinics in the past designed to provide access to lacrosse for inner city youths. he has been involved in the PLA’s plans to run programs for city youths, but he believes a much greater level of administration is necessary to tie in all the work being done.

“I’m very interested, for lots of reasons, to explore the possibility of helping bring lacrosse to inner city youths,” he said. “It’s not just the sport; it’s all of the aspects, which include an academic piece such as the tutoring and the mentoring.

“One of the major issues that need to be addressed, speaking from the boys’ side, is the lack of male role models for some of the inner city youths.”

Martin said Philadelphia needs to look at other models that have been successful for brining lacrosse to the inner city, such as those in Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston.

“Growing up on Long Island, where I grew up, in Hempstead, they ran a lacrosse program for a predominantly African American community,” he said. “This one lacrosse (organizer) took a great interest in the kids, and he single-handedly changed a lot of people’s lives.

“The other thing is that when I was growing up, youth lacrosse was run by the Police Athletic League. I think it’s a natural combination for the PAL in Philadelphia to become more interested in some work with youth lacrosse and include other branches of the community.”

Martin said he has gotten feedback from other respected coaches in the area such as Drexel men’s coachChris Bates, Haverford School coach John Nostrant and lacrosse coach and leader Hank Resch who say they’d be happy to use their players as mentors (Bates has already been doing this for many years, as earlier reported).

“These people believe it would be a win-win situation for both their kids who have access to lacrosse and the kids who don’t right now,” said Martin. “I would hope we could use the student-athletes both in high school and college in the area to bring the academic and mentoring piece to the kids.”

One example of a successful inner city lacrosse program is in Los Angeles, where the LA Inner City Lacrosse Association and the Starz Foundation team up to help kids in drug-ridden South Central Los Angeles have a positive alternative to being on the streets. Also, there is the Washington Inner City Lacrosse Foundation (WINNERS Lacrosse), now in its ninth year.

‘There are several examples across the country of people that are doing good work in this area,” Martin said. “We are really in the very early stages and it’s imperative that we get a group of committed people who are interested.”

Martin said all the work being done by the Public League and LEAPS and other organizations are of great benefit to the development of lacrosse in the city. But he feels that even more leadership can only help and that many long-time lacrosse leaders in the region are willing to work together on coordinating a major program.

He said that in Los Angeles they have full-time, paid executive directors running the foundations. They also have a board of trustees that they report to, so that leadership is never a problem.

“We are blessed to have Penn and Drexel and St. Joseph’s and many other great colleges in Philadelphia with great lacrosse such as Cabrini,” he said. “I think they would be very interested in being involved in a program like this.

“It’s good for the kids to get outside their world. I know it would be great for my kids to get out of their little world and see a little part of the world they don’t get to see.”

Martin said he plans to have a meeting after the season with people who want to get involved in building a major program for inner city lacrosse.

‘It would be a joint effort by a lot of constituents who want to achieve the same goal,” he said. “We would piggy-back on what people like John Christmas and Eric Gregg are doing. They have a working model already.

“We want to help kids and give them opportunities. I think a lot of kids can benefit from being around lacrosse and have them understand that part of the lacrosse culture is not just playing the sport – it’s the academic side, and the citizenship. It’s giving back to the lacrosse community, specifically across the community.

‘This is good for young people.”

For more information on the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association, click here

For more information on the Black Women in Sport Foundation, click here

For more information on LEAPS lacrosse, click here

For more information on the Philadelphia Lacrosse Foundation, click here

For more information on the Public League’s Middle Years program, click here



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