The following article was one of the US Lacrosse impact stories that appeared in regional editions of the April print edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Have the magazine delivered right to your mailbox and help support the positive growth of the sport by becoming a US Lacrosse member today.

A chance meeting among passionate youth sports advocates already has yielded a boost to the growth of lacrosse in Detroit.

Considering Liam McIlroy first encountered Alex Allen III and Yvette Bass just two years ago and the progress they’ve made to date, momentum for the sport’s growth in the Motor City has only just begun.

“I had moved back to the city and was training some kids at an indoor facility, and a mutual friend introduced us,” said McIlroy, a former lacrosse and football player at Gross Pointe South (Mich.) High School. “It was like the stars aligned at that moment. We just clicked.”

A hand injury directed McIlroy to surrender lacrosse in favor of college football at Denison, but his love of the fastest sport on two feet never waned. Allen headed up the Chandler Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization founded under a different name in 2009 charged with revitalizing one of the city’s oldest outdoor spaces. Bass is the conservancy’s program coordinator.

“We had redone the football field at Chandler Park, and we had it lined for lacrosse, too,” Allen said. “We’re building or redoing the facilities there and then programming them for sports and education for the community.”

"It’s important for Detroit to have a presence in the sport, and important for people of color to be included as the sport grows.”

Perhaps more important than serving as the CEO of the organization executing a $20 million masterplan to overhaul a city landmark, Allen is the father of Alex Allen IV, who experienced all the benefits of lacrosse when the family moved to West Windsor, N.J., for a portion of his childhood.

“I fell in love with lacrosse because it combined the physicality of football and the fast-break feel of basketball,” Allen IV said.

He recalled frequent summer tournaments until the family moved back to Detroit, where he continued his career at University of Detroit Jesuit High School. But he noticed in both areas that he was one of only a few, at most, black kids playing lacrosse.

Now at age 22, the younger Allen wants to give minority youth in the Motor City those same experiences.

In 2018, McIlroy, Bass and the Allens founded Detroit Youth Lacrosse. They built upon a few clinics conducted by the Conservancy, eventually fielding a 12U boys’ team that competed in four tournaments last summer.

“I met Lex [Allen IV] shortly after, and it felt like family from the go,” said McIlroy, now the program director and boys’ coach of Detroit Youth Lacrosse. “We share the same vision.”

Allen III and Bass secured grants and gear from US Lacrosse, the Sankofa Lacrosse Foundation, the Smith Family Foundation, the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, local colleges and other organizations. Bass and McIlroy took to the city schools, making presentations to coaches, athletic directors and administrators on the value of lacrosse.

“I tell our football coaches we’re going to keep your kids in shape, they’ll have better footwork, they’ll be energized because they’re not doing one sport year-round, and they’ll have academic opportunities available to them because of lacrosse,” McIlroy said.

“And there are therapeutic qualities to the game, which is important,” he added. “We have players that come from tough backgrounds.”

Theirs aren’t the only homecomings in this effort to grow the game. Ashlee Brown grew up not far from Chandler Park, where she’s now the girls’ coach for Detroit Youth Lacrosse after playing collegiately at Howard.

In its brief history, Detroit Youth Lacrosse has exposed more than 100 inner-city boys and girls, including Bass’ son and daughter, to lacrosse through its various clinics and events. McIlroy expects participation to grow this spring, allowing standing boys’ teams to compete in the Suburban Lacrosse League and a girls’ team to play multiple opponents in a less formal structure.

The vision: Turn Detroit into a lacrosse hotbed.

Allen IV still gets the same goosebumps as an assistant coach that he got before his first game as a kid.

“I remember last summer our first game at our first tournament, looking at the kids as we got ready for faceoff,” he said. “I felt like, ‘Wow, I’m 10 years old again, playing my first game.’ It’s so big for us as an organization to go from a few kids at a clinic to have 20 kids on a team that has gained respect from other teams. There were no teams in the city. It’s important for Detroit to have a presence in the sport, and important for people of color to be included as the sport grows.”