November 18, 2013

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Contests, Community Showcased at HBCU Classic

by Erin Harty | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Strong contests on the field and a growing community off of it were showcased at the innaugural HBCU Lacrosse All-Star Classic on Sunday.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Gallery: HBCU Lacrosse All-Star Classic Photos by John Strohsacker

Although the three hotly contested games were the centerpiece of the inaugural Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Lacrosse All-Star Classic, held on Nov. 17 at Howard University's Greene Stadium in Washington, DC, it wasn't really about the scores.

For the 140-odd players and coaches of the day's three events—two high school games and a North vs South college all-star matchup—the day was about showcasing lacrosse to a younger generation and increasing interest in the sport in the African-American community.

"Lacrosse is almost a mentor sport, a word-of-mouth sport. And when one person is enthused, it is infectious, and that's how it works," said Bill Krehnbrink, coach of the Morgan State club team, who assisted Donnie Brown with coaching duties for the HBCU North team.

The North team (comprised of players from Howard, Morgan State, and the University of District of Columbia) defeated the South (Morehouse College and Hampton University), 11-7.

"I grew up with a lot of these players, especially coming from Baltimore, but to see so many faces come out for one day was pretty amazing," said Arick Scott, a senior pre-med major at Howard and graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, who played attack for the North team.

Scott started playing lacrosse as a sophomore at Poly, where he was fortunate to have lots of exposure to the sport. "Lacrosse is a big part of the Baltimore culture; it's been around a long time. I just kind of fell in love with it, and just picked up a stick up one day," he said. Scott added that he has very few friends involved in the sport, "but any friend that I bring to the lacrosse field and get a stick in their hands, they fall in love with it also."

Kevin Johnson, president of the lacrosse club at Hampton University, played for the HBCU South team. He got started with the sport at Archbishop Carroll in Washington, DC. "I was interested and I went out, and loved it ever since, and just tried to recruit other people to come out and play," he said.

He echoed many other participants who praised the inclusion of high school players, some of whom traveled from as far away as Alabama to participate. "Bringing the youth out, it gave them a little bit of exposure to playing at the next level," he said. "It was a good experience for the younger kids to come out and watch us play."

Richard Valdez, another player from Hampton who scored two goals for the HBCU South team, counts himself fortunate to have had lots of exposure to lacrosse growing up. He got started playing in fifth grade, and was encouraged by his coach at Elwood John H. Glenn High School (Elwood, NY) and former University of Delaware standout Kevin Lavey.

For Valdez, the event was an opportunity for like-minded athletes to join forces and showcase their talent. "[The event] is bringing a lot of schools together, a lot of people who play lacrosse together, because there aren't a lot of African-American people who play lacrosse. No HBCUs really have collegiate teams, they have clubs. So it's a good representation of people who play the sport and are trying to get better at the sport; I would say I liked that aspect, especially with the young kids. That's a good thing."

Valdez said that when he encourages friends to try lacrosse, "they see the stick and they're like, 'I don't know what to do with this!' But once you get the flow of passing and catching, it all just comes naturally."

He stresses to his friends that it's a sport with opportunities for all sizes and ability levels. "I tell them that lacrosse is a sport where you don't have to be the biggest person, you don't have to be the fastest person, but it's a sport where you can use your ability to do well," he said. "In football, they always want the biggest, the fastest. This sport you can be the biggest and do great, you can be the smallest and still do great."

Anthony Ryan, coach of the Baltimore City College team, led the Blax Lax high school team to victory in the second of two high school all-star contests of the day. Ryan played college lacrosse at Morgan State, on a team that was ranked #3 his junior year. "We lost a lot when Morgan folded," he said. The message he tried to impart to his all-star high schoolers? "Buying into the idea of sticking together and keeping this thing going." He lamented the difficulty in getting coaches to pay attention to high school lacrosse players in Baltimore City, and in getting the players themselves interested in lacrosse when it's not something their friends already participate in, although that's something he hopes to change. "People are very very attracted to something that's popular," he said.

Nick Reed, one of Ryan's players at City, echoed his coach's sentiments. "In the city, lacrosse is not very popular," he said. He had the benefit of a family connection—his father played college lacrosse, so Reed had a stick in his hands when he was still in kindergarten. He enjoyed the event as a chance to play with a different crowd. "It was a lot of fun. You got to play with people you'd never played with before, and got a different feel for the game."

Anthony Johnson, another City player, agreed. "Today was real fun. It was a good Sunday. Better than chilling in the house, and we got two W's!"


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