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By Paul Ohanian
Lacrosse may not be the first sport that comes to mind in Minnesota quite yet, but if Homegrown Lacrosse has its way, the Creator’s Game will soon join hockey, football and ice fishing among the state’s top recreational activities.
Homegrown Lacrosse started in Minneapolis in the mid-2000s as an organization focused on camps, clinics and league play. It now has expanded its reach to inner-city schools and community organizations. Staff members teach lacrosse in elementary and middle school physical education classes around the state, as well as in after-school programs and city community centers. Most schools are receptive to Homegrown Lacrosse’s outreach efforts, since it subsidizes most costs.
“Our goal is to get as many kids exposed to the game as we can,” said Matt Hourigan, chief financial officer. “Whether they stay with the game or not, we feel like we’ve already won if we provide the initial exposure.”
That philosophy made Homegrown Lacrosse a logical partner for US Lacrosse via Coach Across America (CAA). CAA helps train and place young coaches in underserved communities, and provides financial support for those coaches for up to a year.
With the goal of diversifying the sport, US Lacrosse now provides additional financial support to lacrosse organizations, like Homegrown Lacrosse, that qualify for CAA.
“This is a great strategic partnership to have with CAA to further assist urban programs in employing trained lacrosse coaches,” said Eboni Preston-Laurent, senior manager of diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse.
In the first year of the CAA arrangement, US Lacrosse provides funding assistance for 12 coaching positions with six different organizations: Charm City (Md.) Youth Lacrosse, Harlem (N.Y.) Lacrosse, MetroLacrosse (Mass.), Dallas (Texas) Bridge Lacrosse, Oakland (Calif.) Lacrosse Club and Homegrown Lacrosse.
“We feel really blessed to have this additional support,” Hourigan said. “We need more manpower to run these service-based initiatives. It made a ton of sense for us to be able to partner with US Lacrosse. “
Kids in the Game, a non-profit organization with a similar mission, helps provide children from low-income families access to after-school youth sports programs by finding grant donors to offset expenses. Grants generally are $30 per child, payable to the hosting sports program.
Preston-Laurent, who joined US Lacrosse last October with the specific purpose of cultivating such relationships and broadening participation in the predominantly white sport, was not deterred by the fact that Kids in the Game had never before funded a lacrosse program.
“It sure seemed like another natural partnership opportunity for US Lacrosse,” she said.
PPP Lax in North Carolina also seemed like the right beneficiary. Established in 2008 by Marc Wimbush, the program had been the recipient of a US Lacrosse equipment grant several years ago, but it still faces numerous challenges — field space, transportation limitations and financial resources among them.
Through Kids in the Game and US Lacrosse, PPP Lax was matched with a benefactor located in Oregon. With 30 active players in the program, approximately $900 in assistance was earmarked for PPP’s Winston Salem-based U11 team this spring.
“Every bit helps and makes a difference,” said Wimbush, who also solicits college fraternities and church organizations for funding. “We appreciate that US Lacrosse put forth the effort to connect us with Kids in the Game.”
Partnerships with Coach Across America and Kids in the Game are just two examples of how Preston-Laurent is spearheading the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts and utilizing structures that reside outside the walls of US Lacrosse.
“Collaborating with other organizations that are on parallel tracks makes sense,” Preston-Laurent said. “Since we’re targeting the same underrepresented groups, we’re trying to find ways of working together with a shared mission.”
[Blog] Opening the Door to #Diversity in #Lacrosse http://t.co/Stu0pg2kta pic.twitter.com/nAkwaXOjUm— US Lacrosse (@USLacrosse) May 2, 2014
[Blog] Opening the Door to #Diversity in #Lacrosse http://t.co/Stu0pg2kta pic.twitter.com/nAkwaXOjUm
Other partnerships formed by US Lacrosse since Preston-Laurent joined the organization include the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) All-Star Classic and the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance exhibition last fall. Both events provided mainstream visibility for diversity in lacrosse, which could serve as a catalyst for increased participation among minorities.
“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-Laurent said.
Preston-Laurent, who is black, started playing lacrosse in sixth grade and starred as a goalie at Westminster (Md.) High. She went on to play at St. Bonaventure, where she earned Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2008. From there, she had coaching stints as an assistant at Endicott and Emerson, as the head coach at Sweet Briar and as the director of New England Select.
“I’m excited that I can now help open doors for others,” Preston-Laurent said.
US Lacrosse has several diversity and inclusion initiatives in development. These include a hardship US Lacrosse membership plan, formation of the Urban Lacrosse Alliance, the Lax for All program. The national governing body recently released the Best Practices Guidebook and Tool Kit to help organizations assess their level of inclusivity (with a 13-question quiz) and implement practical and inexpensive measures to integrate their base.
“A team is not at its best with 25 defenders or 25 attackers on one roster. You need a diverse group of players that fit the various roles,” Preston-Laurent said. “Why should you run your organization any differently?”
“Ultimately, we hope that lacrosse programs will reflect the demographic of their communities,” she said. “We’re trying to move the needle.”
US Lacrosse believes that broad representation and participation add significant value to the lacrosse experience of each of us, and that these valued experiences are enhanced by embracing underrepresented and underserved communities.
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