By Paul Krome | @paulkrome
Spend some time talking with Shari Appollon, and her passion for growing the game quickly becomes clear.
But it’s what she struggles to verbalize that makes her perhaps the perfect fit as the volunteer girls’ program director for Brooklyn Lacrosse and a member of the US Lacrosse Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
Appollon, 28, caught the lacrosse bug in high school and played at Syracuse after former coach Lisa Miller saw her at the Orange’s summer camp. She had to pause when asked to describe the rewards she feels as a mentor to girls who had little to no previous experience with lacrosse.
“It’s hard to describe,” Appollon said. “When I think how I was introduced to lacrosse and the opportunities that were opened up to me, a leader in the community willing to put time into teaching life lessons and the sport and mentoring girls to go far. Now I’m in that role. I can be the same mentor or role model for girls — words can’t describe that feeling, how I’m helping to mentor girls.”
Appollon’s family moved several times during her childhood before she was able to settle in as a ninth grader at Elmont Memorial (N.Y.) High. Knowing sports were a good way to make friends, she played basketball and lacrosse — the latter thanks in part to a push from a “lax-rat” tutor.
Appollon quickly became a lax rat as well, and improved to the point that playing in college became realistic. Finances, however, proved a barrier to attending summer camps or tournaments that many college coaches choose to use as evaluation for prospects.
Of all of the coaches, only Miller offered an adjusted payment plan for her camp. Appollon attended the camp after her sophomore year of high school. She went on to enjoy a productive four-year career as a defender for the Orange, earning second-team IWLCA All-Northeast Region honors as a senior.
Appollon later earned a master’s degree from Stony Brook’s Manhattan campus while coaching at Wagner. Thankful for the opportunities the sport had given her and knowing firsthand the role costs can play in prohibiting entry to the sport, Appollon searched for youth lacrosse clubs in Brooklyn. She found Brooklyn Lacrosse and volunteered to become its director of girls’ lacrosse.
In just two short seasons, the program has grown to include 125 girls, ranging in age from 5 to 15. Appollon teaches the girls the skills of the sport and emphasizes the importance of maintaining both a healthy lifestyle and the relationships that come with participation in lacrosse. Her work to expand participation made her an ideal candidate to work with US Lacrosse in its strategic priority to strengthen access and opportunity.
“Shari’s lifetime experience to the different cultures of New York, both on Long Island and in the city, and her passion for helping young urban girls realize the many values of participating in lacrosse have made her a great fit for our inclusion efforts,” said Eboni Preston-Laurent, senior manager of diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse. “She embodies the spirit of giving back to the game.”
Appollon’s close friend and coaching colleague, Cal coach Ginger Miles, spoke highly of volunteering for the sport’s national governing body. Miles has been a member of the US Lacrosse Board of Directors and Women’s Game Committee.
“I hold dear to my heart that as the sport grows, people in leadership positions should be conscious of making it inclusive for all, and that’s not just based on race,” Appollon said. “I view it as a wider range — as the sport is expanding, getting it to as many people as possible.”
It Starts with the First Stick
Shari Appollon raved about the feeling she gets when mentoring kids as they make their way through lacrosse.
Part of that equation involves, of course, kids being there to be mentored. The US Lacrosse First Stick Program can help teams and leagues bring new kids into lacrosse, where the accompanying possibilities for growth and development remain one of the sport’s hallmarks.
“At Brooklyn Lacrosse, we look to remove barriers that have stood in the way of urban kids playing lacrosse,” said Joe Nocella, founder of Brooklyn Lacrosse. “We have identified these barriers as cost, logistics and perception. The US Lacrosse First Stick Program has meshed perfectly with our mission of removing these barriers.”
Brooklyn Lacrosse applied for and received a First Stick grant in 2012. The program provides awarded teams and leagues with comprehensive resources, ranging from US Lacrosse memberships equipment for players to enrollment in the US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program (CEP) for coaches.
“The First Stick Program has caused us to become the largest lacrosse organization in Brooklyn in less than two years of existence,” Nocella said.
The program is funded in part by donations to the US Lacrosse Foundation, the philanthropic arm of US Lacrosse. Teams and leagues must apply for a First Stick Program grant by June 15.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.
The First Stick Program provides teams and leagues with comprehensive resources, ranging from equipment to coaching education. US Lacrosse has awarded 225 grants over the past two years. Applications for 2014 grants are being accepted through June 15.
Apply for a First Stick Grant