Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/12/09
It may well end up being one of the top stories in 2009, but 2008 will be known as the year leaders took a major step toward making lacrosse a legitimate sport in Philadelphia.
Much was accomplished to help bring lacrosse programs to the Public League and city youth and recreational programs for both boys and girls.
Many of these events were not highly publicized, but along with the recent announcement that Philly African American pro players John Christmas and Eric Gregg were starting a non-profit program to kick-start the movement, the positive signs continue to mount.
In 2008, with much financial support and leadership from the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association (PLA) and key officials of the Public League, 14 boys and girls teams played in the Middle School Lacrosse program. The program has continued to grow since it was formed three years ago.
The offshoot of this program is the start of the first high school boys’ program in the Public League. FitzSimons High will play at the JV level this year and is expected to have a varsity program in 2011.
There were many other key developments in 2008. City college coaches Chris Bates (Drexel men) andBonnie Rosen (Temple women) continued to run grass-roots lacrosse programs by using their players and other volunteers to help train city coaches and teachers to implement lacrosse in the curriculum.
Both coaches also helped run after-school programs for city youths,
Several key community leaders also oversaw programs to bring lacrosse to city girls. Former Temple coach and Hall of Famer Tina Sloan Green, President of the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF), continued to run after-school programs designed to promote lacrosse and academics.
Sloan Green, considered a pioneer in lacrosse and other sports for developing programs for African American athletes, has been running lacrosse programs for city girls for over 20 years. She has worked closely with Cathy D’Ignazio, a youth lacrosse director who also has spent years trying to build lacrosse in the city.
Rick Howard, a Public League middle school athletic director, has been instrumental in implementing the Middle School Lacrosse program for boys and girls. Some of the key officials who helped lead the program include Grover Washington Jr. Middle School coach Henry Hunt, who served as Chairperson for both the Boys’ and Girls’ leagues and now will focus on the boys.
The FitzSimons High coach, Evan Scott, is a city product (Simon Gratz High) who played college lacrosse at East Stroudsburg and has who coached high school lacrosse in New York and in youth programs in North Carolina. He is serving a key role in pushing the sport. Friends Central coach JB Bowie also has helped city coaches as a liaison from the tradition-rich Main Line.
While Sloan Green is credited for helping the BWSF push for girls’ lacrosse programs in Philadelphia for many years, Ray Jones (then a board member of the PLA) started bringing boys’ lacrosse programs in city schools 15 years ago by training teachers and running workshops.
Along the way, there have been many roadblocks to building the sport in the city – lack of qualified coaches, fields, equipment and referees, lack of funding and the fact that lacrosse is not a traditional city sport.
But the PLA has been relentless in its attempts to push the sport, and three years ago gave a New Start grant of $13,000 to start the Middle School program. Overall, the PLA has given over $33,000 in grant monies to sustain these programs, according to PLA President Dan Altschuler.
Also in 2008, PLA officials such as Germantown Academy coach David Martin and Tim Udinski helped run programs that have offered free clinics and training for both city coaches and players. Several teachers in the Philadelphia School District also have run programs and given time to help build the Middle School league.
Altschuler and past PLA presidents and board member Scott Growney as well as many others in the PLA have been recognized for spreading lacrosse throughout the eastern half of the state in such regions as the Lehigh Valley and Berks County. The push to promote the sport continues, and now many feel the time is ripe for the city to embrace lacrosse.
In December of 2008 another big development occurred when Christmas and Gregg announced they were launching the LEAPS (Lacrosse, Education, Attitude, Perseverance, Success). Program.
Christmas, a Lower Merion graduate and NCAA champion at Virginia, is taking off this year from the Philadelphia Wings to devote himself full-time to the program.
He is partnered with Gregg, an Episcopal Academy grad who has played two years as a reserve goalie for the Philadelphia Barrage and is the coach of Catholic League power St. Joseph’s Prep. Christmas and Gregg have been working with Sloan Green, the Public League and the PLA and already have created three initiatives that will be detailed in the coming days. On Martin Luther King Day will kick off their program by holding the 1st Annual MLK Day Lacrosse Tournament and Clinic Fundraiser.
The event will feature a boys’ youth tournament for 5th- and 6th-grade teams and a free clinic for city students at the Starfinder Foundation’s Urban Promise Center in Manayunk. LEAPS will be providing transportation for more than 50 city kids and the youth teams will be donating at least $500 to LEAPS to participate.
The goal, according to all the lacrosse leaders, is ultimately for many Public League schools to have middle school and high school programs and for youth players to have some of the same opportunities to learn and play the sport as they do in the suburbs. Can it be done?
Much will be learned in 2009.