Editor’s Note: Historically, South Bronx Lacrosse (NYC) has not been a hotbed area for our sport. That is changing, and Dan Leventhal of Highbridge Green Lacrosse wrote a great story about starting the team at Highbridge Green, and how they got to play their first game ever as a program. THIS is Grow The Game in action. Read up, take heed, and get motivated!
“Is this hockey? What are those sticks? I want to play.”
South Bronx Lacrosse – Highbridge Green
I distinctly remember the day this past fall when I showed a group of students from the Highbridge Green School (South Bronx, NY) video highlights from the Tufts Lacrosse 2014 National Championship win over Salisbury.
The kids’ eyes lit up – it was the first time they had ever seen or heard of the sport.
I am in my first year as a member of the 2015 Teach for America NYC Corps, teaching seventh grade math at the Highbridge Green Middle School in the South Bronx. When I first arrived, the school’s only organized sport was basketball – a stark contrast to the numerous extra curricular opportunities I was presented with growing up. Watching their reactions to the highlight footage, I knew I had to find a way to offer them a similar opportunity.
I decided to start the first lacrosse program at the school.
I have loved lacrosse for as long as I can remember. I started bouncing a lacrosse ball around with my dad when I was five years old and was instantly captivated by the game. As I grew older, it became an increasingly integral part of my upbringing, and my personal development.
Playing lacrosse throughout my life, and ultimately at a college level at Tufts University, has taught me invaluable lessons that span far beyond the field. I came to understand the importance of teamwork, sacrifice, hard work, trust, support, time management, and accountability – both to myself and to my teammates.
Above all, I have developed lifelong relationships from the game of lacrosse.
To get the program started at Highbridge I contacted CityLax, a program that helps spread lacrosse throughout inner city schools in New York. CityLax helped guide me through the launch process, and generously donated 30 helmets to our cause.
I contacted my former team at Tufts and through the Jumbos’ network, we were able to collect enough equipment to outfit around 25 players. Wesleyan University, a fellow NESCAC school and former rival, donated the remaining equipment.
We were ready to begin. By the end of March, forty seventh-graders had signed up to pick up a lacrosse stick for the first time.
I knew something special was happening when I noticed shifts in the students’ behavior, focus, and attitude inside the classroom. They consistently and enthusiastically showed up to practice, quickly drawing attention from pedestrians walking by. Onlookers snapped photos of the boys in their helmets and gear, giving the boys a sense of gratification and pride.
Highbridge Green’s 1st Game
Although I was already satisfied by the progress we had made, I knew there was still more to do. I wanted the kids to experience what it is like to play in an authentic lacrosse game, with opponents and on a field, rather than on blacktop, which I knew would be difficult to achieve in the local vicinity.
I arranged a clinic in my hometown of Chappaqua, NY, with the high school’s varsity team and then for a scrimmage against the 7th-8th grade team. My kids could barely stay in their bus seats on our way there. For some of them, this was not just their first time playing on a grass field, it was their first time leaving the Bronx.
After about an hour of practice with the varsity team, it was time for the scrimmage. Overwhelmed with excitement, the guys in green (Highbridge) came out firing. It didn’t matter that they were unsure of the rules or where they were supposed to be on the field.
Suddenly, two groups of students with entirely different backgrounds, were united on the same field, playing the same sport, and sharing the same passion for the game.
After each goal, both sidelines erupted in loud cheers. Kids on both teams constantly high-fived and congratulated each other. After around an hour of play, the game ended and both sides lined up to shake hands. I, along with many others, was humbled by the sportsmanship I witnessed.
After the scrimmage I sat down with the students to reflect upon the experience. One player, Moussa, voiced how much he enjoyed learning something new and going outside of his comfort zone, especially during the first game, which he admitted he was nervous about. Another player, John, expressed satisfaction from playing against opponents who weren’t just his friends. Multiple players on the Highbridge team already recognize that lacrosse has the potential to differentiate them and plan to pursue it long-term as way to stand out to college admissions boards.
Many of the same programs and communities that helped shape me into the lacrosse player, and now coach, that I am today helped make it a special and truly invaluable experience for the Highbridge students. I am both touched and inspired by the good will and selflessness of everyone involved in making it happen.
I hope this first game will be a day my players never forget, and the first of many lacrosse games to come.