The spring has not been kind thus far to outdoor sports, with many high school athletes getting more of a workout clearing ice and snow from frozen fields than they have playing games. However a gathering Saturday in still frigid temperatures in Brooklyn may have brought about a bit of a thaw, and started to warm the hearts of lacrosse fans around the city.
Starting at around 9 a.m., the girls lacrosse team from Brooklyn Tech and the boys team at Long Island City High School gathered at Tech’s field on Clermont Road for a clinic, although it wasn’t your average pre-season workout. The teams were treated to some instruction by a Hall-of-Fame coach and players with an elite NCAA pedigree who have now moved on to use the game they love to unite not just sports, but culture as well.
The gathering of the elite players from Israel lacrosse and the two high school squads was put together by CityLax, the largest non-profit organization in the world dedicated to bringing the game of lacrosse to inner-city student-athletes in underserved schools and communities. Through their efforts, the group, led by CEO John Moser, has helped use lacrosse as a vehicle across the City to inspire young people to do well in school and get involved in athletics. The program has built over 32 PSAL schools who never had lacrosse before, and is creating not just fans for when the kids are playing, but fans for life.
Those life lessons were also not lost on Saturday, as coaches and players from the Israeli team swapped stories and anecdotes not just about the game, but about using sport as a vehicle for peace in a sometimes volatile region. Coached by Hall of Famer Bill Beroza and run by Scott Neiss, Executive Director, Israel lacrosse has found ways to use the sport as a message for peace and team building by bringing many elite college players to Israel to play.
The Israel Men’s National Lacrosse Team was ranked seventh in the world after competing in the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships this past summer, which was the first time Israel had a team competing in the tournament. The team, made up of elite former NCAA players includes All-Americans Ari Sussman of Dartmouth and Joshua Offit of Duke as well as a mix of former Division I, III and Israeli players.
“The stories of our athletes giving up their time to play for Israel and grow the game is just amazing,” Beroza said as the wind whistled across the Brooklyn field. “Combine that effort with what CityLax is doing for kids here and this makes for quite a unique and compelling event that we hope to do more of.”
“Many of these kids on the field didn’t even know about lacrosse a few years ago, so being able to put them together to learn from some of these guys who have excelled is pretty special,” said LICHS coach Joe Houghton, who just took over the program after serving as a football coach the past few years. “The opportunity that CityLax has helped give these kids is amazing, and we are proud to be here today.”
The clinic was part of a goodwill and fundraising tour Israel lacrosse was on, which included a game against the NLL New York Lizards Sunday. The Lizards won the match 21-6 but provided a great measuring stick for the Israeli team as they prep for international competition. However the clinic on Saturday may have even more positive longer implications than Sunday’s morning match at Hewlitt High School.
“This was another big day for us,” said Moser. “These young kids have come so far in their development as people and athletes, and to have them share the field with athletes who are not just great lacrosse players but are amazing ambassadors of sport helps us amplify our mission and our message beyond just how the game is played.”
“Our goal is to show how far we can go in exposing young people to different cultures while growing the game of lacrosse beyond its current boundaries, and Saturday we reached both those goals,” added Beroza. “It was a great way to raise awareness and create a once in a lifetime experience for all.”
CityLax’s initiative has helped to triple the number of public high school teams playing varsity lacrosse in New York City, while serving as a catalyst for assisting schools in their effort to develop their lacrosse programs or helping student-athletes to broaden their college choices. Their efforts to take young people beyond the game mirrors team Israel’s efforts, and epitomizes what the goal of sport should be, creating winning relationships on the field and in life.
So despite the cold and blustery weather, the game of lacrosse took another step forward Saturday, one which will continue to grow as the weather warns and the lacrosse nets fill in places that just a few years ago there were none, both in Israel and across the city.