Kenny Benoit had limited exposure to lacrosse while growing up in Atlanta. With a background in exercise science, he did participate in a lacrosse unit as part of his educational curriculum. But that was the extent of his involvement.

It was five years ago, after he had moved to Evansville, Indiana and started pursing community involvement opportunities, that he began volunteering as a girls’ lacrosse coach. He spent time supporting and learning from the other coaches while growing his own understanding of the game.

In 2015, he agreed to help launch and coach a junior varsity girls’ program at Bosse High School. The team began with clinics and instructional sessions before taking the field for its first competitive season in 2016. A US Lacrosse First Stick grant helped support the new program.

“We started with the clinics because we wanted the girls to be comfortable with playing the game by the time we had the spring season,” Benoit explained. “Most of our players are African-American and hadn’t played lacrosse before.”

Following two JV seasons, Bosse fielded its first varsity squad in 2018 and won nine games. It continues to also offer a JV team, and Benoit has worked to create a middle school team that now serves as a feeder for the high school program. He coaches all three teams.

“Lacrosse is still new to a lot of these girls, but they did well in their first varsity season,” Benoit said. “They got a good taste of the level of play and now they know how to prepare for these games.”

Benoit is also encouraged by the positive impact that the sport is having in the local community. Supporters who didn’t know much about lacrosse are now more heavily engaged.

“The parents are really getting more versed in the game,” Benoit said. “Before, they used to just cheer when a goal was scored. That’s all they really understood. Now, after games, they come down to talk to me and ask why there wasn’t a shooting space call made at a certain point in the game.”

In addition to the original First Stick grant, Bosse continues to receive additional US Lacrosse resources as a member of the Urban Lacrosse Alliance (ULA). The benefits include equipment and a small annual stipend to help subsidize fees and expenses.

Created in 2014, the ULA is comprised of like-minded organizations dedicated to expanding lacrosse opportunities for urban youth. The resources provided by US Lacrosse are intended to support increased diversity and inclusion efforts within the game. 

“Without the help of US Lacrosse, we would never have been able to get our program off the ground,” Benoit said. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” 

Last week, Benoit joined other ULA coaches and administrators at a summit in Maryland to share ideas and strategize about overcoming program challenges. 

“There’s a great sense of community in lacrosse, and the ULA exemplifies that,” Benoit said. “Having a chance to talk to other people and hear their stories is very impactful. We’re all focused on growing the game.”

In addition to the networking and round-table opportunities, attendees had the chance to take part in formal sessions led by subject matter experts. The two-day program featured both on- and off-the-field topics, including many issues that may be unique to programs based in the urban landscape. 

“We look forward to this event each year because it’s a great opportunity to provide support for coaches who are committed to inclusion and giving back to youth in underrepresented communities,” said Eboni Preston-Laurent, senior manager of diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse.

The information provided at the summit can be especially helpful because, quite often, the coaches associated with urban programs also coordinate many of the administrative duties for their programs. Juggling varied duties places heavier burdens on their shoulders.

“We want to provide them with the tools to continue to support their organizations and we also want to create a network of coaches and administrators across the country who can share best practices for urban sport development,” Preston said.

Christianne Malone, founder of Detroit City Lacrosse, serves as both an administrator and coach with her organization, which strives to promote character education among youth by instilling the values of lacrosse: respect, honor, and integrity.

“This was a great chance to learn from others, especially those that are in the same boat,” Malone said. “I really appreciated the structure that allowed us to hear about the experiences of others. The camaraderie was great.”

Benoit found the summit helpful in helping him to think beyond conventional methods.

“There was lots of information presented that I had never thought of before,” Benoit said.  “Ideas about fundraising and harnessing donor support, as well as building a team culture and understanding how individual player personalities shape how we respond to each other.”

The long-term success of each organization, and its local impact in effectively growing the game among underserved populations, is the ultimate goal of both the ULA program and the annual summit.

Malone noted that most of the ULA attendees share a common commitment.

“It’s about youth engagement for all of us,” she said. “We all have challenges, but we do what we do because we know that we can make a difference.”

Benoit found it encouraging that the challenges faced by Bosse’s program are not unique.

“Our girls don’t see a lot of players on other teams that look like them,” he noted. “But I try to tell them that they are not alone. It’s great to hear about the growth of the game in other urban settings.” 

Urban Lacrosse Alliance

The ULA is designed to enable qualified affiliates the ability to address needs unique to their lacrosse programming through education and resources.

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