Tyrese Stanley was barely old enough to play sports when his teacher at KIPP Harmony Academy gave him an assignment. He began working on a project about impactful African-Americans and she suggested Tyrese, already a sports fanatic, study former Johns Hopkins standout, MLL all-star and Team USA player Kyle Harrison.

“I didn’t know who he was until I researched him,” Stanley said of his project’s subject. “It stood out to me how he played lacrosse. He was very good. It taught me about lacrosse.”

For Stanley, an avid football fan who also swims and plays golf and squash, his project gave him a glimpse at another sport and a new path to success. Like Stanley, Harrison grew up in Baltimore.

Stanley, 11, decided to play for Charm City Youth Lacrosse shortly after learning about the sport. He joined Charm City in 2012 and was hooked immediately.

“He couldn’t put the stick down,” said Tyiesha Cofield, Stanley’s mother. “He was cradling. He was saying ‘I have to learn how to cradle. I have to bounce the ball off the wall so I can get better.’”

It’s that type of influence that Charm City Youth Lacrosse aimed for when it was launched in 2009. Founder Douglas Gansler, former Maryland Attorney General, established the organization hoping to provide the resources and transportation to allow children in Baltimore to play lacrosse.

Now, after seven years of growth, Charm City Youth Lacrosse has met another goal — to win. Charm City’s U11 team, led by coach Pace Kessenich and Stanley, won all five games at Lax Max and took home the title with a 4-1 victory over Team 42 on June 12.

The win helped show that Charm City is closing the gap with the more traditional programs.

“It gives our kids the ‘I can do’ attitude,” said executive director Artie Spruill West. “You’re the kid who has never played before and you see these kids show up with the really flashy uniforms and they’re catching and throwing. To know that you’re able to compete with them and know you’re right there with them is huge.”

It’s that attitude that Kessenich, former Navy midfielder (1979-82) and Colgate coach (1992-95), has instilled in his team. He began coaching at Charm City in 2010 and headed the U11 team a year later.

Kessenich said he joined the organization because he wanted to help improve boys’ lives through the game of lacrosse, specifically in Baltimore, a different demographic then at his previous coaching stops. He wanted to simply teach fundamentals, but he’s happy to see his team’s progress.

“It really shows that if these guys continue to keep playing, they do have a future in the game,” he said. “ .. We came together as a team. It was a bonding experience to go through this weekend. We talked all the next week about being resilient and if things don’t go our way, we can work hard and turn things around. That’s how this last weekend went for us.”

Cofield said Kessenich’s patience and positivity helped foster an environment that saw players like Stanley believe in one another. After each game, Kessenich hands out “Attaboys”, where he and his players praise each other on great plays.

And for a team that saw its share of blowouts in its first few years, that type of encouragement added with practice has created a collective confidence. With players spending almost as much time on the field as at home, a positive role model like Kessenich is vital.

With limited donation money from organizations like US Lacrosse via the First Stick Program and Under Armour, West said volunteers like Kessenich and his son Skyler are what Charm City Youth Lacrosse relies on.

“Kids look to a coach as the shining star,” Cofield said. “When the coach is talking, they look at them and carry it on like ‘OK, we didn’t win today but the coach said that I did this and I can work on this. If I can work on that then I can be that shining star that coach said I can be.’”

Kessenich and West both said the Lax Max win will create even more confidence within their program, which brings in special guest speakers like former Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson and Harrison’s father, Miles, who starred at Morgan State in the 1970s.

The hope with these measures is that kids like Stanley will come out Charm City Youth Lacrosse believing that they can succeed, whether in lacrosse, other sports or life in general.

Stanley hasn’t made up his mind quite yet, but he’s setting his sights high. After picking up his shiny new Lax Max medal from his trophy shelf for show-and-tell, he started thinking about his future.

“Can you play more than one sport in college?” he asked. “I want to do football, lacrosse and probably basketball or track.”

Pretty ambitious goals, but wait until you hear where he intends to study.

“I want to go to Harvard or Yale,” he said.

“It’s very possible,” Cofield said of her son. “He can do whatever he wants to do. I told him if he keeps his grades up, stays on the Principal’s list, he can make it there.”

First Stick Program

The First Stick Program provides comprehensive developmental resources, equipment, and coaches training to awarded teams, with the ultimate goal of developing self-sustaining programs that operate by US Lacrosse national standards and best practices.