Rob Raphael is trying to change the world during his lunch hour.

Raphael works as a full-time I.T. professional in Colorado Springs, but he devotes his free time to the sport of lacrosse. In addition to serving as boys’ coach at Pine Creek High School and a girls’ club coach, he has launched a non-profit, 719 Lacrosse, to bring the game to participants with physical, cognitive or mental impairments. 

“We want to open up the game to everybody who wants to play,” Raphael said.

Having no background with the adaptive community, Raphael realized that he needed to build bridges with partners to help the vision grow. That’s why he spends his lunch hour trying to connect with volunteers, supporters, special needs coordinators, and service providers. 

“This is all new for me, so I’m always looking for help,” he said.

Fortunately, the community response has been very positive. Colorado College has provided gym space and field access for clinics. Members of the Rolling Mammoth wheelchair team have served as volunteers. Warrior Sports has donated equipment. And US Lacrosse provided a National Diversity Grant to support disability access. 

“We have started to gain some momentum,” Raphael said. “We’re casting a wide net, but it’s all about raising awareness and getting the word out. We’re open to everyone.” 

Since launching last summer, 719 Lacrosse has hosted two adaptive clinics for players with varying disabilities. The events have included participants ranging in age from six to 46, with some in wheelchairs and some who are not. A small army of volunteers helps to facilitate the learning and move the players through different skill stations.

At the same time, Raphael has also forged a partnership with local school districts to provide lacrosse instruction to students with disabilities. He has introduced a six-week instructional course in three area high schools. 

“Rob was very accommodating to our schedule, needs, and goals. The students were all part of the team and were allowed to shine,” said Nicole Beauvais, special education coordinator at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

The instructional courses were capped with a modified game. Afterwards, each participant received a medal.

“One of my students wore his medal for the next week and did not even take it off to sleep,” Beauvais said. “It was amazing to see the students encouraging each other, their sportsmanship, how hard they worked to build their lacrosse skills, and how proud they were of themselves.”

Beyond building skills, Raphael, who is hands-on as a clinician, notes that lacrosse is serving as a form of therapy for the students.

“The social interaction is a huge component of this,” he said. “They are developing better communication skills and learning what it means to be part of a team.”

Having no specialized training in working with disabled individuals, Raphael utilizes the principle of personal learning through observation. 

“I have a huge learning curve, but we keep modifying the process as we go,” he said. “When I see something that isn’t working, we try adjustments to make the experience better. It’s about making a connection.”

Much of Raphael’s motivation for 719 Lacrosse started with an experience he had while coaching his son’s U15 team three years ago. The parent of a player with cerebral palsy asked if Raphael could help her son to be involved. That young man, Ryan, joined the team and scored a goal in the final game of the season. Lacrosse was the first organized sport he was able to play.

“After that experience, I started thinking about how we could do this on a wider basis,” Raphael said. “At the end of the day, it’s about fun and inclusion. That’s the spark. Seeing smiles and laughter helps to fill up my tank.”

Earlier this month, US Lacrosse awarded 14 new grants totaling $27,500 to support lacrosse participation in underrepresented communities. These National Diversity Grant Program awards will be utilized by local organizations to initiate and continue programs that promote lacrosse diversity. 

Grant recipients were:

• Manatee Lacrosse Club (Florida) - Community Impact Grant
• Lawrence Township Lacrosse League (Indiana) - Community Impact Grant
• Tsunami Girls Lacrosse (California) - Girls Initiative Grant
• Pompano Beach High School (Florida) - Girls Initiative Grant
• Cass Technical High School (Michigan) - Urban Outreach Grant
• Mira Mesa High School (California) - Urban Outreach Grant
• Barack Community Recreation Center (Ohio) - Urban Outreach Grant
• Franklin-Garfield Lacrosse (Washington) - Urban Outreach Grant
• Justice High School (Virginia) - Urban Outreach Grant
• Providence Creek Academy (Delaware) - Urban Outreach Grant
• Opportunity on Deck (Iowa) - Event Support Grant
• Aspire Higher & National Youth Sports Program (Indiana) - Event Support Grant
• Rise Lacrosse (North Carolina) - BRIDGE Grant
• Salem Square Community Association (Pennsylvania) - BRIDGE Grant 
 

Creating Opportunities

The NDGP provides funding to qualified organizations that initiate or continue programs that promote lacrosse participation and education.

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