In 2017, I was a junior in high school in Kent, Ohio. I had finished my first two years of high school lacrosse and just made my original college commitment. The next step in the lacrosse career for most would be to finish up high school ball and prepare for the college game, but it looked a little different for me. After spending the first half of the school year in Ohio, I packed my bags and headed to Italy for a lacrosse season abroad.
When I first found out I had the chance to move to Italy for my fathers work, I was a bit shocked and unsure about how I felt. It would mean missing a year of high school lacrosse and leaving all my friends behind in Ohio, but I quickly learned this would be the lacrosse adventure of a lifetime.
I started my research the second I realized I could play lacrosse abroad in Italy. This led me to discover the Italian Lacrosse Federation. I learned of the collection of clubs around the country with players on each roster from as far as Mexico and as close as the neighborhoods of Italy.
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Each player had a different reason for being in Italy but all of them shared a passion for the game and a desire to get better. Many of these players came from other European countries to play in the league to prepare for their national teams. I landed a spot with the Prato Black Panthers, located just a short train ride outside of where I lived while in Florence, Italy.
From the second myself, my brother, and my good friend Cody Carson arrived, we were treated as if we were family by our new Italian teammates. Some spoke English and some didn’t, but that didn’t matter. The language we all spoke was the language of lacrosse.
Before heading to Italy, True Temper Lacrosse and FireThreads Lacrosse were kind enough to send me with enough lacrosse goods to supply many players. This confused Italian customs quite a bit. The gear was a true blessing as I was able to give sticks to players who had been using the same stick for many, many seasons, caked in mud and held together with random strings. I felt like Santa in those incredible moments, blessed with the opportunity to hand players a brand-new stick.
We first landed in Florence during a late Italian evening and found our way from the airport to our apartment. This was my family’s first time in Italy, so this alone was an adventure.
The next day, we all hopped on a train and made our way to Prato to meet the team and prepare for my first games. As we took the train, I noticed the beautiful mountains surrounding the area and the ancient Catholic Churches. What a landscape to play lacrosse. Truly breathtaking.
A few short days later, I took the train once again with all my gear to meet my good friend Lapo, who was the Italian National Team’s goalie and quite the netminder by any standards, I must add. Lapo took Cody and me to his home and introduced us to his family before we joined the team for a film session and headed to our home field. We were competing in the first ever “Prato Cup,” a tournament to show the city of Prato the amazing sport of lacrosse.
After a handful of games, we hoisted the trophy up over our heads, and in that moment, I felt like a world champion and world traveler. I had just landed days prior in a country so far from home, yet I was playing lacrosse abroad surrounded by a new lacrosse family. That night, we zipped through the streets of Prato blasting Kanye (my Italian teammates loved Kanye) and taking photo after photo. What I didn’t know was that this was just a small introductory taste of the incredible season ahead.
I hopped in the tiny cars every following weekend to travel the Italian countryside for games. From Rome to Milan and everywhere in between, I played lacrosse games with my teammates and brother, Henry. These moments were incredible and full of a love for the game of lacrosse.
In these games, I would play against and meet players from Japan, Mexico, Croatia, Poland, France, and many other countries that I quickly learned loved lacrosse as much as I did. The players on each team even followed the game in the United States closely. One of my closest Italian friends and teammates, Leo, quickly told me that he modeled his game after Paul Rabil. He even went as far as to show me his impressions of Paul.
This type of passion for the game truly cannot be matched. During this journey, I also had a desire to bring lacrosse sticks to historic places where lacrosse had never been before. My favorite to date was hiking up the mountain above Florence called Fiesole. This was where Da Vinci first tested flight. I climbed this remote mountain area and found the exact spot where I sat to string a head I had brought with me from the States. This is easily the most incredible place I have ever strung a stick: eye-opening and magical.
It was the lacrosse journey of a lifetime. Looking back on these moments, I cherish them even more. From the people I met, to the gift of playing the sport in a new country, it was all so amazing. I think back on this adventure and try to plan my next global lacrosse journey.
If you ever have the opportunity to travel abroad and play lacrosse, I urge you to take it. It will awaken a whole new appreciation for the sport that you never knew you had. It will be your lacrosse journey of a lifetime.