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Chazz Woodson Interview: Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance

Editor’s Note: Chazz Woodson, and a group of trusted friends, have been working on the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance for some time now, and their first event is just around the corner. On October 25th, the SLA’s elite team of black lacrosse players, The Ambassadors, will take on Brown and the English National Team in a scrimmage in Providence, Rhode Island, and we’ll be there! We wanted to sit down with Chazz to learn more about this game, but also the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance!

The Ambassadors are an elite team that will promote Sankofa Lacrosse. So what is the goal of this organization? Who is involved?

There are really three goals for the organization. We want to connect and reconnect the Black lacrosse community. Most people do not realize (myself included) how many successful Black players there have been. Most people hear Jim Brown but don’t realize that other were other guys that really played major roles on good teams, before Damien Davis burst on the scene in ’99, and John Christmas and Kyle exploded in ’01. There’s a gap that needs to be bridged, generationally.

More importantly – and this leads to the second goal – In that gap lie a lot of men and women with great careers and connections outside of the lacrosse world, that should be tapped into. People that may or may not have been standout lacrosse players, but certainly love to give back, and love to help others succeed. So we want to utilize that network to provide opportunities to the young people.

The third piece is simply to Grow The Game. I think we often forget that one barrier to the growth of diversity in lacrosse is the fact that young athletes of color do not see their peers, or anyone that looks like them playing, unless they are in a program designed specifically to provide that opportunity. Seeing one Black player playing on TV may spark a few kids’ enthusiasm. But we hope that seeing 25-30 Black players playing together, and at a very high level, will spark a new generation’s enthusiasm. This is our contribution to Growing The Game.

The Ambassadors has been a long time in the making. Who have you been working with on this project, and how long has it taken to get off the ground? Why did you take your time with it, instead of rush it out a year or two back?

Kyle Harrison and I have worked to bring the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance to fruition for over 3 years, and over the course of that time, we’ve spoken with a lot of people that have shown us support. The creation of this team specifically may not explicitly exemplify that. But the thoughts, encouragement, and advice of those people cannot be understated. I’m not sure I want to start naming names, because I don’t want to miss people. But we’ve heard from a lot of people, some of which will be important players as this project continues to develop.

There were a couple of reasons that we took our time with this. As far as the Ambassadors team was concerned, there were a number of guys on the roster that we reached out to almost two years ago that said they were on board. We were just waiting for the right opportunity. We didn’t want to just throw a team together for a one-off tournament and have it fade out. When Coach Tiffany said that he was on board with it, we knew that we had to do it. As for the SLA in general, it was of the utmost importance to be patient. This is not the first time an organization like this has been attempted, and we wanted to make sure that we were very clear in our objectives. To me, personally, it still feels a little rushed, but it’s definitely the right time.

Why play Brown and the English National Team? How did that play day come together?

As I mentioned before, some of the guys on this roster have been ready and waiting for a long time. A couple of years ago Kyle and I were in talks with the Iroquois team, but we were unable to lock down any logistics. We almost did the Ocean City tournament at one point, but that didn’t work out. Last spring, Kyle and I decided to reach out to NCAA Division 1 coaches, and I knew Lars Tiffany would be interested by what we are looking to accomplish. When I asked him, he got excited about it, especially because he had the English National Team already coming to Providence.

For us, being able to compete against a Division 1 team AND an international team was sort of a no brainer. It just became a matter of logistics. Fortunately, we have a roster of selfless guys, that all recognize the value of what we are doing. Every single guy on the roster is paying his own way to be a part of it. John Christmas and Encore are donating the uniforms AND a making a financial donation, which will help to cover the hotel rooms. Guys are taking off from work – some guys are taking 2 days. Nobody is being paid. And for a lot of guys, they are used to either playing MLL, LXM, or on a tournament team where a lot of these things get taken care of. So it was huge that guys were committed to making this happen, despite having to come out of their own pockets.

How were players selected for the team? Is it more than just what a guy does on the field?

There were a lot of factors. Without question, we wanted guys that were quality, that have served The Game well, and that are great for kids. There are guys that are deserving of a spot for their collective body of work on and off the field. Bill Daye, for example, given what he has done in the game, should not be excluded. Whether he was going to be on the sideline or in uniform, we needed him to be a part of this. There were guys that from a competitive standpoint we felt needed to be included. There were guys we asked that couldn’t make it, and guys that were added at the last minute.

I think it’s also important to note that there are guys that we did not reach out to that are more than capable and worthy of being on this roster. Some we knew about and some we didn’t know about initially. But we also had to limit the roster for this event. Hopefully moving forward there will be MANY opportunities for guys to be involved with the Ambassadors team. So, in short, yes. It’s more than just what a guy does on the field… But make no mistake, we did our best to put together a roster that could win.

These scrimmages mark the beginnings of something much bigger. What does the future hold for Sankofa and The Amabassadors?

Ideally, the Ambassadors become just that – ambassadors of The Game. We want to use this team to exemplify the growth of the game, and through camps and appearances to help continue that growth. For the SLA itself, we hope that this will be an organization that represents excellence off the field as much as it does on the field. Lacrosse for most of us involved (on this team and throughout the lacrosse community) has provided us opportunity. It’s provided us a means by which to accomplish things and meet people that were it not for our involvement, we may never have.

We want to make sure that the doors we walk through are left wide open for those behind us. And we want to open other doors as well. As such, we are reaching out people in all fields. Educators, to see how best we can use this team and this organization to promote academic achievement. Businessmen and women, to see how we can begin to provide more networking and internship opportunities – not just for athletes of color, but for everyone. You’re right. This is the beginning of something much bigger. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s more than worth it.

Who has jumped on board to support you guys?

Immediately, Lax All Stars and Lacrosse Playground have both been very vocal about supporting us. As I mentioned, Encore is doing our uniforms and has made a financial contribution. Verina Crawford, who spearheaded the effort to get the program at Hampton University going, made a financial contribution. STX has shown us support. Countless individuals have reached out to us. Eboni Preston, the newly appointed Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion at US Lacrosse reached out as soon as she heard about this. Tina Sloan-Green, Fred Opie, Ryhland Huyghue and others that were leading the push for diversity in lacrosse long before Kyle and I. Craig Freeman, a professor at LSU, and proud father of a young laxer. Scottie Graham, a former NFL player and proud father or a young laxer. Tom Duquette, a member of 4 different Hall of Fames, a former Team USA member and coach, among other accolades. And a few others, whose names I cannot mention just yet. The support continues to pour in from everywhere. One of our priorities will be determining how to best leverage and utilize it all.

Thanks to Chazz for taking some time out to fill us in on the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance! We are VERY excited to see the SLA make its first public appearance, from a personal standpoint, I’m thrilled that I get to see Marcus Craigwell play for the Ambassadors. I coached Marcus’ JV team for half a season back in the early 2000s, and I can’t wait to see him ball again. It’s been more than a decade!