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Although Eboni Preston, US Lacrosse’s first associate director of diversity and inclusion, has only been on the job for a couple of months, she has already been involved in two high-profile events that were designed to champion the cause of diversity in lacrosse.
In fairness, neither the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance exhibition in Providence nor the HBCU All-Star Classic in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by US Lacrosse. However, the national governing body worked behind-the-scenes to help support both events. It seemed like a natural fit, since both events were clearly opportunities to increase awareness and exposure to underrepresented communities.
“There is an undeniable importance for students of color to see people like themselves participate in lacrosse and furthermore, to experience a high level of success in the sport,” Preston said. “Public events like the Sankofa scrimmage and the HBCU All-Star Classic highlight those accomplishments and it is our hope that it will encourage other youth to get involved in the game and make an impact.”
In her role at US Lacrosse, Preston helps direct the organization’s diversity and inclusion task force, comprised of national volunteers who provide leadership in fostering greater inclusiveness. Her time at events like the HBCU All-Star Classic is well-spent in building bridges and momentum for future US Lacrosse initiatives.
“In just a few hours at the HBCU event, I collected over 50 information forms from players at all levels that are interested in coaching education, post-collegiate lacrosse, national team clinics and many of our other events,” Preston said.
US Lacrosse is certainly not alone in its desire to bring greater inclusiveness to the sport, and having Preston serve as a conduit among many different organizations committed to the same cause is beneficial.
“It’s great to connect with people and programs to have them learn more about US Lacrosse and the support we provide,” Preston said. “We hope the continued interest stemming from these events will help to develop and sustain additional players, officials and youth of color in the game.”
Preston notes that a grassroots effort will be key to growing the game within underrepresented communities. US Lacrosse’s goal is to support and celebrate these efforts in order to broaden the participation base.
“The amazing piece is there are so many other groups out there that are on the ground, day in and day out, working on a volunteer basis to grow the game in non-traditional areas,” she said.
“Many coaches and parents have committed themselves to creating positive playing opportunities for underrepresented youth in lacrosse. We want to support them in any way we can. They deserve it.”
The diversity and inclusion task force will host two sessions at the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion, Jan. 10-12 in Philadelphia, to educate program administrators on creating a culture of inclusion in their leagues and programs. Topics to be discussed include the benefits of having a diverse program, understanding unconscious bias and developing fair learning environments for minority players and coaches.
“Our first priority is to educate coaches and program administrators about the benefits of actively seeking an inclusive environment,” Preston said. “We hope the development and exchange of best practices and strategies will bring about success in each individual program, as well as promote and support the development of additional new diverse youth programs around the country.”
Ultimately, Preston hopes that the growth of the game will yield more days like last Sunday’s HBCU All-Star Classic, with success stories to share.
“There is nothing better than hearing a child say, ‘This is a day I will never forget’,” Preston said. “For us to help in having that impact — that’s what it’s all about.”
Photo Credit: John Strohsacker
Want to learn more about making your program inclusive? Attend the diversity and inclusion sessions at the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion. Register before Nov. 30 to get the early-bird rate of just $95.
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Awards to local organizations will help support lacrosse outreach opportunities for underrepresented communities.