June 14, 2010

BRIDGE Teams Connect, Compete at U13 Lax Fest

by Jeff Gilbert | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

A US Lacrosse BRIDGE team comprised of boys' lacrosse players from three different cities affiliated with the program for underserved areas, competed over the weekend at the USL U13 LaxFest in Ohio.

© Steve DeMeo/THSphoto.com

LEBANON, Ohio – Bill Allen was using all the voice he had left to instruct his lacrosse players at the other end of the field.

“Cut to the middle,” his voice carried hoarsely down the field every couple of minutes.

In between, Allen would turn to the players not in the game and send another one in.

Pretty standard duties for a coach. The hard part was getting the names right.

Allen was coaching a team with boys from three different cities at the US Lacrosse U13 Lax Fest. Allen’s team was part of the US Lacrosse BRIDGE (Building Relationships to Initiate Diversity, Growth and Enrichment) program, which sponsors inner-city teams to bring lacrosse to areas that don’t have teams.

While other teams at the Lax Fest were from lacrosse-rich areas and all the players knew each other, the BRIDGE teams had a lot of getting-to-know-each-other obstacles to overcome to compete well.

“Usually by the time we’re leaving, we’re playing together,” said Allen, who brought five players with him from West Palm Beach, Fla., to join 10 players from Dallas and two from Washington, D.C. “One of our best games of the weekend was this last game, because they’ve played together and they’re starting to get used to each other and starting to move the ball a little bit.”

Allen’s team had just played the last of its five games late Saturday afternoon on a hot and humid day. The players were exhausted and chugging bottles of water and sports drinks as they labored toward their bus. Allen had just told them that they had played their best game and that he was proud of their effort.

“Before the game we were practicing. and he was getting on us if we didn’t do it right,” said Kobe Boyce, 11, from Dallas. “So we were trying our hardest, and during the game I think we did the same things as we did on the practice field.”

This was at least Allen’s seventh trip to the Lax Fest with a boys' U13 or U15 team, but this was the first year for a girls' team to attend. That coaching job belonged to Gregory Crichlow and Iris Gardner of Denver.

“I really want to work with this age group, and I don’t get to do that in my real job,” said Gardner, who was raised in Denver and played at NCAA Division III Pomona-Pitzer in California. “I left college really sad that I wouldn’t be able to play competitively anymore. Why not give back to the community I came from? I’m from the neighborhood that our girls come from.”

Gardner took the job of helping girls from Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., get to know each other. On Friday morning, they played a name game in which each player took on the name of a kind of animal that began with the same letter as their first name.

“If we hadn’t learned the names, our communication wouldn’t have been strong,” said goalie Lizbeth Alvarez, 13, from Dallas. “So we would not have been as good on the field as we were.”

Gardner had the players stand in pairs, then groups of four and eight to discover things they had in common.

“It’s nice to go explore and see different places, meet new people, breathe new air, see new trees,” said LeRita Bibbs, 12, of Denver. “I’m also glad I came because lacrosse is my favorite sport.”

The tournament continued Sunday. The BRIDGE teams played their final games Saturday because they needed Sunday as a travel day. But the fun wasn’t over. There was a big social to get ready for back at the tournament hotel.

“It was a blast,” said Trent Patterson, 12, from West Palm Beach. “I made a whole bunch of new friends.”

The BRIDGE players confirmed Facebook was busy over the weekend with friend requests between lots of young lacrosse players.


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