August 29, 2014

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Q&A with Florida Goalie Mary-Sean Wilcox on Nicaragua Service Trip

by Megan Schneider | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

After spending one of her final summer weeks in Nicaragua with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Mary-Sean Wilcox spoke with Lacrosse Magazine to provide an inside look at her experience teaching lacrosse to the local children through Lacrosse the Nations (LTN). To learn more on how to get involved with LTN, visit lacrossethenations.org.

What inspired you to take this trip to Nicaragua? 

A couple of my friends had done it the year before and had a great time. I have been interested in doing a mission trip like this, so it was a great opportunity for me. I did not feel like I was giving up one of my last free weeks; it was more of me having the opportunity to help grow the game of lacrosse and forming a bond with these children through a common love of the game.

Is this your first trip overseas with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, being involved with Lacrosse the Nations?

Yes, this was my first trip with FCA and being involved with LTN. I think the partnership between the two organizations worked out great. LTN works with the local children by giving out scholarships to a couple of the older children who are seeking to go to college. The requirement of the scholarship is for the older students to become coaches to the younger children. Being a coach requires them to teach lessons to the younger children with the help of lacrosse. They relate the game to their day-to-day life. For example, one lesson that was taught was about being a good teammate, which consists of passing to each other and being supportive of one another; the coaches related this to helping their family at home with chores, etc.

Who else attended this service trip with you?

There was a group of twelve of us, all of which are playing or had played lacrosse in college: Maddy Aldave (Hopkins), Ryan Brown (Hopkins), Patrick Kelly (UNC), Evan Connell (UNC), Mark Rizzo (UNC), Brian Bolewicki (Towson), Travis Crane (Penn State), Jack Brust (Quinnipiac), Jen Noon (F&M), Jesse Castelline (Gordon) and Josh Hoffman (Messiah). 

"Since the group of kids playing varies from elementary school to high school girls and guys, we mostly played with just sticks and tennis or rubber balls, though that did not keep the game from being very competitive." (Photo courtesy of Mary-Sean Wilcox)

Where did you stay?

We stayed at a hotel while in Nicaragua, though one night we split up into groups and went to dinner at several families' homes. It was a great experience. They were very welcoming and the homemade food was delicious!

How would you describe the playing conditions?

The field we played on was mostly hard dirt with rocks and glass spread out all around, but for the locals, it wasn't anything different.

How would you describe the children's drive to play despite the obvious field conditions and/or lack of equipment?

The kids have picked up the game of lacrosse tremendously. Since the group of kids playing varies from elementary school to high school girls and guys, we mostly played with just sticks and tennis or rubber balls, though that did not keep the game from being very competitive. On the last day, the guys on the trip restrung a bunch of broken sticks and fixed one the goals. They also taught some of the children how to string their own sticks.

Did the language barrier make teaching the sport difficult?

I personally thought that knowing little to zero Spanish was going to set me back from the connecting with the kids. At the end of the day, I realized all I had to do was grab a stick and find a new friend to play pass with. That's all that mattered. A lot of the kids knew the basics of lacrosse, but we taught by example. Additionally, we had their coaches and LTN leaders who translated for us.

How would you describe the way the kids played?

The kids certainly put their own spin on the game. For example, when I was playing 1v1 with a kid, he bounced it between my legs, ran right by me, got the ground ball and went to goal. It was one of the coolest things I've seen in a while.

Through this program, you split your time between the cities Chiquilistagua and La Chureca. What did you do in each city?

In Chiquilistagua, we spent our time at a public school, where we played soccer, lacrosse, or just ran around with the kids on their recess time. While at La Chureca, we were at Club Hope, which is a youth program in a neighborhood. Here, we stuck strictly to playing lacrosse.

How did you travel between the cities?

We took a van that fit about 15 people. It was about a thirty-minute commute in addition to the Nicaraguan traffic. There were tough road conditions at times. The locations we went to already had equipment for the kids to use.

"At the end of the day, I realized all I had to do was grab a stick and find a new friend to play pass with." (Photo courtesy of Mary-Sean Wilcox)

How much equipment did you bring for this service trip?

On behalf of Mrs. Bolewicki, Brian's mom, we each brought down extra Shootout for Soldiers T-shirts. Additionally, a group of seniors on an Ohio high school lacrosse team wanted to help out some way. They decided to each donate a stick, which they engraved their name and number on it. At the end of the week, we gave out the sticks as prizes to kids who had improved and worked hard throughout the week we were there. We also brought down about thirty lacrosse balls.

How many kids did you teach each day?

At Club Hope, there were about thirty kids during the sessions, ranging from fourth grade to 12th grade. While in Chiquilistagua, we played with about thirty kids while they rotated through their recess at school.

Describe a typical day during your service trip.

A typical day for us was waking up around 7 a.m. to travel to the public school in Chiquilistagua, where we played for about three hours. Following lunch, we either went back to the hotel to change or nap. Then we would go to Club Hope in La Chureca and spend about three hours there. We did our best to split the time between the two locations when they had time available for us to come help out.

What type of drills did you lead?

We usually followed the lead of their coaches and either demonstrated the drills or took part in the drills. We practiced give and go's, passing on the run, pressuring out on defense and having the attack find the open player. We also played a lot of scrimmages throughout the week.

What did you like most about Club Hope?

While we run LTN out of Club Hope, we don't run the Club itself. It's just a safe space for kids to be a part of our program. They offer other programs besides lacrosse. The thing that I liked most about Club Hope was that the kids were always so excited and ready to play lacrosse. Furthermore, the children learned life lessons though playing on an organized team; little things like that we take for granted. It also teaches the kids how to sacrifice what you wanted to do for the better of the team and to work together toward a common goal. 

"I would definitely want to help grow the game in Nicaragua." (Photo courtesy of Mary-Sean Wilcox)

The kids lit up just to have you all there. How happy were they to have Americans visit their city to teach lacrosse?

They were especially excited to play against us and for us to play hard against them. In every activity, we strived to challenge them to become better players. At the end of the week, the kids were all very thankful and are hoping we come back to play with them next summer.

What is the "Nicaraguan way" of playing lacrosse?

I would say that the Nicaraguan way of playing lacrosse was a tough style of game that did not include any padding equipment. It resembled more of a men's game than a women's game.

What did the kids teach you that you can bring back to Florida lacrosse?

I'd say when they bounce the ball between their opponent's legs, as a way of getting around the defender. That's a new trick I picked up on.

After visiting Nicaragua, do you hope to be a part of growing the game there in some way after college?

Yes, I would definitely want to help grow the game in Nicaragua. The people are great and always welcoming. I think it would be good to donate to Lacrosse the Nation to help with the opportunity for more children to receive scholarships and possibly having Nicaragua create a lacrosse team for the World Games.

If there was one simple thing a lacrosse fan, parent, player, etc. could do to help grow the game in Nicaragua, what would that be?

There are plenty of ways to help grow the game in Nicaragua. By going to the Lacrosse the Nations website, you can help by donating money, old equipment/sticks, T-shirts, etc. LTN offers many ways to fundraise for the kids. In addition to going to our website and donating, one of the best ways to get involved with LTN is to run a "Scoop for Loot" campaign

What would you say was your favorite moment being in Nicaragua?

I think my favorite part of the trip was when we each got to hand out a stick as a reward to the kids. To see their faces light up when they were the ones chosen was the best part for me. One kid that I will never forget was Andre. He was a little boy, who on the last day that I started teaching some stick tricks to, he picked them up right away. It was a lot of fun to see him eagerly wanting to learn more. He was a lot of fun and always down to bust out some dance moves as well!


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