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Lacrosse The Nations Interview with Brett Hughes

8 years ago Lacrosse The Nations was founded, and went into action in one of Nicaragua’s municipal trash dumps. The mission for Lacrosse the Nations (LtN) was to unify the lacrosse community, in order to sustainably improve education and health, while creating opportunity and hope for children in need.

Lacrosse the Nations began as a simple conversation between Brad Corrigan and Brett Hughes in 2008 about the truest power of sports to bring people together all over the world regardless of age, background, sex, ethnicity, experience, or even language.

It hasn’t been an easy path, but LtN has made a real difference in the lives of so many kids, and we were curious to know how things had changed over time, and what new activities LtN was working on. We sat down with former UVa legend Brett Hughes to hear more about the current stats of Lacrosse the Nations.

Brett, thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Can you provide our readers with a general update on LtN? How has the program grown and changed since it’s inception 8 years ago?

A lot has changed since we started playing lax in Managua’s municipal trash dump. The families have been relocated to a nearby community built by the government, which means they are living in a healthier environment! As all that was happening, we also had to shift our focus, and find new ways to not just help the current situation, but instead, find ways to build future leaders and create long-term opportunities. The hope is that this will improve the trajectory of the students who come through our programs.

Brett Hughes Lacrosse the Nations
Brett in Nicaragua with Lacrosse the Nations

As for our programming, LtN has become an exclusively after-school program. Before the new community was built, we were essentially running the school’s PE programs. We trained our coaches in lax and gave them the opportunity to go back to the school. As a result they got certified (or are getting certified) as PE teachers and the ministry of education has offered to pay their salaries. Now they teach PE and we pay them to run our programs outside of that. It’s a different approach from where we started, but the important thing is that the kids are seeing a greater benefit, so we’re very happy with the changes.

And there have been some other very positive changes as well. We took the passion and love for lacrosse our kids have gained, and we used it to fuel their love for education, and part of this has been done by expanding our scholarship program. We currently support 22 student-athletes and 6 coaches so that they can go to school, or a pursue a degree. The only requirements are that they stay involved with programming and maintain at least 75% average.

We also recently started an all-girls program (we were 100% co-ed) thanks to one of our year-long volunteers (Brooke Wilson) who played at the University of Richmond. In developing countries, gender inequality is a big issue (as it is everywhere) and so we wanted to provide our youngest female laxers with a space that was their own, and with a role model they could emulate. So Brooke took one of our oldest girl players and spent a full year molding her into a coach. As of this month Darien will be running the show on her own for our girls, and this is really exciting stuff!

It’s sustainable, builds community, and creates opportunity. We are thrilled with these developments.

What kind of things do teams and volunteers experience when they get on the ground with Lacrosse the Nations? What drives these service trips, and what is the mission’s focus point?

Our volunteer and service trip programs have two main goals – 1) Use the talent, energy and passion of our volunteers to improve our programs, and 2) Expose our volunteers to a new culture, open their eyes to a new world, and have them come home as a better person than when they left for the trip.

Our service trips and volunteer programs are the embodiment of our mission of unifying the lax community. When a recent college grad spends a year with us, our home grown coaches improve in dramatic ways, and they help shape our programs (like Brooke and our girls program or Mikey Thompson and his idea for the LtN Cup) with their ideas and actions. Perhaps most importantly, they learn a lot about themselves, who they want to be, and how they want to impact the world.dartmouth lacrosse the nations

Our week-long service trips are very similar, and both groups (the volunteers and the kids) end up having an incredible experience. The power of lacrosse connects our two worlds, and the students in our programs get to see the energy and enthusiasm (and talent) of the volunteers that come down. Our volunteers, on the other hand, get to see the beauty of helping others, using our sport to do something that is bigger than what they are perhaps used to, and creating a strand of service based leadership that hopefully everyone can go back and instill in their lives and within their teams.

What are some of the ways that youth, high school, club, and college teams can support LtN?

The best way is to take part in our Team LtN campaign!

Dedicate a game, run a 5K, or dedicate your entire season like two D3 teams are already doing (CNU and W&L). By doing these things, you not only raise money, but also awareness for our work. This helps to change the way people see the sport of lacrosse and its players, and it is rewarding to do on its own. All info on how people can get involved can be found on our website. TAKE ACTION!

Sign up a group to raise money and go down to see our programs first hand. It’s a life changing experience, and so many amazing memories and relationships have been forged in Nicaragua (and beyond) due to these trips.

Become a walking billboard for us. We have some great shirts and gear. We have club teams dedicating their seasons to us as well, and this involves donating money and creating custom uniforms to play for something bigger. It has been a lot of fun to see how more and more teams are getting involved. If you want to get involved, contact us!

Let’s talk a little bit more about the LtN Cup! This seems like a really cool event, and it’s big that two colleges would support your program like this. What does it mean to you personally to see two colleges play a game in LtN’s honor? As a highly successful former college athlete yourself, what message would you send to the guys playing in this game?

It is an honor at the highest level to have the LtN Cup taking place. Almost 10 years ago this went from an idea and a conversation to something very real. We have worked incredibly hard to build a fantastic team spearheaded by Javier Silva and Brooke Wilson. Our board has been so helpful and so active helping us continue to grow and deepen our mission every year. The fact that our mission resonates with more and more people is fantastic.

As a player and coach I have always needed something to play for. I am a passionate person and the more things I can play for and more people I can honor with lacrosse, the harder I worked. The fact that young men and women want to play and coach for a better future through our sport means we are on the right path.

It’s really quite an interesting road map when it’s navigated correctly, and I’m so grateful for what I got out of the experience in the long run.

I gave all I had to the sport – my time, energy, focus, and heart… I gave it everything I could. Just when I thought I had it figured out, I realized the sport I was playing and working my butt off for was actually pouring into ME all the while. Simultaneously, the sport was teaching me discipline, accountability, how to lead, and yet still be a servant for the greater good of the team… and that there was a lot of joy in the effort.

So if you think about it, sport should always be a posture of giving. Every time you give to the things you love, they always pour back into you. Try to out give the sport of lacrosse and you’ll find that it’s next to impossible. I challenge everyone to play for something bigger… play for the creators of the sport, your hometown, someone you don’t know who needs your help. It will enrich your athletic experience in a way that has no equal, and that may just surprise you.

Can the LtN Cup grow in the future? Could you imagine having four teams come together each year for a D3 lacrosse “Beanpot” style tournament with LtN as the charity?

Absolutely. The LtN Cup can grow… that is actually the point. Gene and Mikey (CNU and W&L coaches) decided to do this to encourage teams all over the country to organize a LtN Cup of their own. We’ve discussed 4 team tournaments (hs and college) and would love to make it happen!

Eventually, we want to host at least one LtN Cup in every state. Last year the Middlebury, Bates, and Bowdoin men’s and women’s teams hosted one in New England and we hope we can do it everywhere else – Cali, Ohio, Colorado, Florida – If any teams reading this want to get involved please contact our Executive Director and absolute machine for the mission Javier SIlva – jsilva@lacrossethenations.org!

Many thanks to Brett Hughes for sharing this info with us, and for continuing to pour himself into the game of lacrosse, and our larger world community.