Over ten years ago, I worked a Summer program for MetroLacrosse in Boston, and the experience had a lasting impact on me. I now live in New York City, and while I have kept abreast of some general changes at MetroLacrosse, I’m not as deeply versed with the program as I used to be. In order to right this wrong, I spoke with Mike Levin, the Executive Director, and a former MLL player, about the current state of the organization, and Mike provided a wealth of knowledge and information. Our conversation is below.
Photo Credit: BRIDGE Lacrosse via MetroLacrosse
How long have you been at the helm of MetroLacrosse? What was the goal when you got involved? Are you looking to augment that end goal at all while you’re in charge?
I started working at MetroLacrosse in November of 2007. At the time, I had just completed my master’s degree in Education and I saw it as a great opportunity to combine my career interest in urban education and my passion for lacrosse. I’m not sure that I had a completely clear sense of what I wanted to accomplish when I first started on the program staff, only that I liked the idea of positively influencing young people through sports.
Years later, now that I am in the role of Executive Director, we are focused on having a deep impact on the emotional and physical health of our participants. We work to make sure that kids participate in MetroLacrosse programming for as many hours per year as possible and as many years in a row as possible. We want to be graduating classes of high school seniors who have developed great work-ethic, self-control and the ability to work with others over a period of many years.
Children who grow up in low income urban communities need to develop these non-cognitive skills more so than children who may have a larger social safety net available to them yet opportunities to develop these skills through athletics are often lacking. MetroLacrosse exists to address that gap.
What was the Spring 2013 season like for the Metro teams?
In 2013, MetroLacrosse operated 15 teams and served roughly 365 participants. This represented positive growth from about 285 in 2012, and we project to have over 400 kids playing in the Spring of 2014. Most importantly, we saw a sharp rise in retention as we were able to retain 65% of eligible participants from the Spring of 2012.
We’ve spent a great deal of energy focused on delivering top quality instruction to our kids over the past several months and we were pleased with the performance of our coaches including our full-time staff members and volunteers. We were particularly pleased to have many alumni volunteer coaches and our largest group of parent coaches to date. Our high school teams, the Boston Bulldogs, enjoyed another strong spring competing largely against ISL schools and we are excited about the future for that group.
MetroLacrosse’s SummerBounce has long been a camp where urban lacrosse players get out of the City, and spend a week playing lacrosse at a private school, while being surrounded by greenery and nature. Why have you guys decided to open Bounce up to campers from outside of the Boston area?
One of the important elements of SummerBounce has always been about getting outside of one’s comfort zone, broadening horizons and learning to work together with peers who have different backgrounds. Before SummerBounce was a national program, we worked towards these objectives by creating teams of kids from different parts of Boston.
In addition, SummerBounce involves a few elements which require kids to try something that they may not be comfortable with and risk failure (climbing an alpine tower). It is important that we create an emotionally safe place where kids understand that trying new things and risking failure is critical to developing new skills. We talk about this in the lacrosse context all the time, but in many instances off the field as well. By getting out of the city, being exposed to an independent boarding school, and being forced to work together with teammates from different backgrounds, SummerBounce is structured to expand the horizons of our participants who may not get of the city frequently.
All of the objectives of SummerBounce have been enhanced by adding participants from other parts of the country. Kids get to work together with and compete with urban lacrosse players from all across the country, many of whom have completely different backgrounds from their own. In addition, many of the campers who attend SummerBounce from cities other than Boston experience airplane travel for the first time which in and of itself can be a broadening experience. We have been proud to partner with many great programs across the country to turn SummerBounce into a national program.
Who were some of the SummrBounce counselors this Summer? Where did the kids come from?
We always generate an amazing and diverse staff at SummerBounce and this year was no exception. The staff is anchored by our full time staff members including people like Katy Fitzgerald, a former All-American and UNC and Pat Cronin, a MetroLacrosse alum who recently graduated from UMass where he was a captain on the club lacrosse team. We’ve been fortunate to have David Higbee, Executive Director of BRIDGE Lacrosse Dallas and Ben Allison of CityLax in Denver work with us for the past couple of years as well. We are always looking to develop new coaches and advocates for the growth of urban lacrosse so we frequently have a few current college players as well.
This year, we welcomed kids from the following programs and cities:
Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership (New York City)
City Lax (New York)
For the Love of the Game (New York)
Bluford Drew Jemison Charter School (Baltimore, Md)
Denver City Lax (Denver, CO)
BRIDGE Lacrosse Dallas (Dallas, TX)
Lax4LIFE (San Francisco, CA)
ROC E6 (Rochester, NY)
In all, between two weeks of camp, we have roughly 225 participants at camp.
The Cape Ann Tourney is a great fundraiser for you guys. What can teams expect from the Cape Ann, and is there still room for teams or free agents to join in?
I’ve been fortunate to play in many great summer lacrosse tournaments in my life and Cape Ann offers a truly unique and beautiful venue to play the game. We are fortunate to be able to host the tournament at the Raymond Family Farms in Ipswich, MA with our fields laid out on pristine polo fields. The games are competitive but the atmosphere is relaxed and is a great chance to enjoy the company of lacrosse friends and family. There is still room for teams to join which they can do by visiting our website or contacting Alex Maeder (firstname.lastname@example.org). It is a great way to enjoy the sport that we all love and support the growth of the game at the same time.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Fall Fundraiser in Fenway? Why do it there? What do you hope the event will do for MetroLacrosse each year?
Last fall, we hosted our first annual Faceoff @ Fenway as a way to generate funds and awareness for our organization. We looked at a number of different venues and we wanted something that we would be accessible to people from all around Boston, that had a unique and sports themed feel to it. Fenway turned out to be a great option. As an iconic sports venue in Boston, it catches people’s attention and it is really cool to see the venue dedicated to lacrosse for an evening.
A highlight for me was seeing pictures of our participants on the Scoreboard in Center Field. We hope to raise over $100,000 this year and the event also helps us bring together an amazing community of supporters. MetroLacrosse is only able to succeed if we continue to grow our network of supporters, the Faceoff @ Fenway is a great chance for people who would like to get more involved to learn a bit more about what we do.
How has the support been from the lacrosse community? If you had one wish in terms of support, what would it be?
MetroLacrosse exists in large part because of the generosity of the lacrosse community at large. We are always looking for qualified and available volunteer coaches (see our volunteer application on the website) and we need folks who have a strong technical background in the sport and in working with kids. As a non-profit organization we are working to build plans for long-term sustainability and growth and an important part of that is being financially healthy so we are definitely looking for financial support as well. For folks who can volunteer as coaches, but who want to be more involved, we do have some opportunities on our Advisory Council, Event Committees, or Board of Directors as well.
I’d say if I had one wish in terms of support it would simply to be to keep MetroLacrosse in mind as much as possible. As a lacrosse fan, I am excited to see the game growing but I can also see that we are experiencing some growing pains. Certainly there are complicated issues related to club lacrosse, college recruiting the evolution of the business of lacrosse. I know so many great people doing amazing things in the sport so I am optimistic about the future but one concern that I do have is that as the game grows, the opportunity gap between those who have great financial resources and those who do not will also grow. For folks out there who are working and volunteering in the sport, my greatest wish is that they keep this idea in mind as they build their organizations.