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PLL Assists: Spreading the History of the Game

Trevor Baptiste cleaned up last week at the 2022 PLL Awards. The Atlas FOGO won the Faceoff Athlete of the Year and was named MVP of the league. The event was held last Friday night at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The weekend symbolizes how the PLL and its Assists program is working to change the lacrosse narrative.

The sport of lacrosse has a stigma attached to it. Many outsiders view it as an elite prep school sport played by rich white kids. The awards weekend represents how the PLL is actively working to change that narrative. A sentiment echoed by Jeffrey Wright in the Fate of a Sport documentary, now streaming on ESPN+.

I would love to see lacrosse continue to evolve in the way that it seems to be evolving now. Expanding its reach throughout the country and the world. Seeing it expand in terms of players, and the diversity of players I see on the field. Not simply because of its diversity, it just means more people have access to it, and more people are playing it. To build and strengthen the game.
– Jeffrey Wright

The PLL has worked to change the lacrosse narrative through their PLL Assists initiative. One of the goals of PLL Assists is to honor the heritage of the game. PLL Assists works to proactively navigate social change, bring awareness to marginalized members of society, garner support for those in need, and foster continual growth of our great sport. For PLL Assists, it starts at the top.

PLL Assists Leadership: Kyle Harrison & Eric Mathieu

PLL Assists is led by Director Eric Mathieu and future Hall of Famer Kyle Harrison. Both men are committed to creating a more welcoming and inclusive lacrosse environment for young black boys and girls.

As a black player in a predominantly white sport, creating welcoming environments, and inclusion has always been something top of mind for me and something I’ve wanted to impact within the sport. PLL Assists was the second announcement in league history, and on an annual basis, we’ve deepened our commitment and investment into our Assists initiatives and partners, and will continue to drive change.
– Kyle Harrison

I” was once the young black boy who often felt ‘out of place’ trying to navigate the lacrosse world. The Premier Lacrosse League and PLL Assists’ commitment to changing the stigma around lacrosse, increasing access to the sport, and supporting members of our communities, makes this a truly special organization to be a part of.
Eric Mathieu

PLL Roundtable hosted by Kyle Harrison

Kyle Harrison hosted a roundtable discussion at the start of the year in Albany. Kyle was joined by Nakeie Montgomery (Redwoods), Romar Dennis (Atlas), Trevor Baptiste (Atlas), Jules Heningburg (Redwoods), Dominique Alexander (Archers), and Isaiah Davis-Allen (Redwoods). The conversation was centered around their experiences growing up and playing lacrosse. Here are a few highlights of the conversation.

Kyle: Knowing what you know now, would you do it again, and could you look at a young black girl or boy and say: you should do this?

Romar: I was hyper-aware as a kid. I was so aware of my surroundings. I noticed more classicism than racism most of the time. I would get on the field and be like my stuff barely fits, everyone else’s stuff is brand new and I’m black. I was like ‘they definitely think I’m broke and I’m black.’ My parents were like you’re just starting out and your not good (the whole room laughs). I’m creating problems that weren’t there. I’m noticing everything.

Jules: I was hyper-aware like you were. I would show up to the field and I didn’t even know what cradling was. My friends would say, what are you doing playing that white boy sport? That was a fire that drove me for a really long time, which is a really hard burden to carry on. A lot of kids will carry that burden, we have to be honest about the experience with them. It’s important for them to recognize the responsibility they have in the game. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You might just change the whole path for all these kids. That’s part of being black and why black people are so reliant.

Nakeie: I’m gonna take a different angle with that question. I’m really happy I played lacrosse. The PLL, as far as financially taking care of our families, isn’t the end game. You play basketball or football, you want to go to the NBA or NFL. We are creative. We do more than just our sport because we have to. Playing lacrosse and in life, my edge is about out thinkng or outsmarting. I went to an all-black private school they were always telling us a mind is a terrible thing to waste. I have two degrees. Lacrosse is about education. It’s more than just a sport.

Trevor: Our environment is comprised of individuals. We need more people that look like us. We need more diversity in the game. We need more exposure. We need people to see those different types of situations.

Kyle wrapped up the discussion by talking about the importance of knowing your history. It’s something he has stressed with young boys and girls. “Flood them with history so they know that people walked this thing so we could run.” All the experiences aside, black players have felt alone. Knowing your history is part of knowing that others have come before you and are standing alongside you.

Spreading the History of the Game

Lucien Alexis Jr. (Harvard University)

Lucien was Harvard’s lone black player and student in his junior class in 1941. Harvard traveled to Annapolis for a game against Navy. Admiral Russel Wilson stated that the Midshipmen would not take the field against a black man. Harvard Head Coach Dick Snibbe refused to play without Alexis and was prepared to forfeit the game. However, Harvard was forced to play the game without Alexis thanks to the Crimson’s Athletic Director, WIlliam Bingham. The Crimson lost 12-0. The decision brought about student protests and led to Harvard to change their policy ensuring it would never happen again.

Syd “The Squid” Abernethy (United States Naval Academy)

The First Team All-American played at Navy from 1978-1981. Abernathy led the Midshipmen to the national semifinals during his senior season in 1981, scoring seven goals and adding three assists. The attackman would leave Navy sitting 12th all-time in career points for the Midshipmen. Abernathy is now in the Navy Athletics Hall of Fame.

Morgan State University Men’s Lacrosse Team

The Morgan State University lacrosse program grew in popularity during the 1970s because many of the top black players from Baltimore and Long Island that had difficulty getting into the mostly white colleges would attend the HBCU. The team was founded by Baltimore high school lacrosse player, Howard “Chip” Silverman. The team had tremendous success between 1970 and 1975. They were ranked in the Top 25 in four different years, made the NCAA tournament twice, and in 1975 they defeated No.1 Washington and Lee University. The school, unfortunately, dropped the program in 1981.

Jessy Morgan (Virginia)

The three-time All-American at Virginia served as the head coach of both Howard and James Madison. She is now the Athletic Director at the Garrison Forest School in Maryland.

Tina Sloan Green

A multi-sport college athlete and coach. She was the first black woman to play for the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey team and first to play on the U.S. National Lacrosse team. She started the women’s basketball and lacrosse team at Lincoln University. It was the first HBCU to have a women’s lacrosse program. In her 18 years as Temple’s coach, she led the Owls to 11 NCAA Final Fours and three NCAA National Championships.

The Present History

Nat St. Laurent (Redwoods)

The first and only men’s lacrosse coach at Ohio Northern University and Head Coach of the PLL Redwoods. He has previous stops at the Ohio Machine, VMI, as well as Washington & Lee. Nat is also a member of the U.S. Army Reserves.

Myles Jones (Redwoods)

The 6’5” midfielder is a force to be reckoned with on the lacrosse field. Jones had a distinguished career at Duke, winning two national championships and he currently owns the team record for career and single-season points. 

JT Giles-Harris (Chrome)

The second-year defenseman out of Duke won the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year. JT played both football and lacrosse at Duke. He started 80 of 81 games at close defense and holds the team record for caused turnovers with 89.

Romar Dennis (Atlas)

Romar is a graduate of Loyola where he was one of the top midfielders in the game. He won an MLL Championship with the Denver Outlaws in 2018. Romar has used his platform to advocate and promote social justice and racial equality.

Latrell Harris (Archers)

The defensive midfielder was the first lacrosse player to make the leap from the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association to the PLL. Harris also plays in the NLL for the Toronto Rock.

Information from this story courtesy of:

For Morgan State’s 1975 lacrosse team, stunning upset still resonates decades later (Baltimore Sun)