By the end of this article I hope that you’re on board with giving a kid by the name of Matt Stern $35 of your hard earned money. Right now, there is potential for lacrosse to change lives within our surrounding communities who are struggling as they live in poor conditions most do not realize exist in the United States.
But before I get to that, you really need to understand the mission of Spread the Lax, and you need to look into the roots of the founder. Stern was raised in the town of Wyckoff, NJ, by two lacrosse-loving Hopkins grads that instilled a passion for the game in their son at a young age. He was then groomed in the Wyckoff Rec. lacrosse program from kindergarten through the eighth grade. It was what happened to him following middle school that would help light his path for growing the game.
An Unexpected Encounter
After middle school, Stern was accepted into the Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, NJ, a select magnet high school. The school community was completely different from what he was used to; Bergen Academies was much more diverse and exposed Matt to different ideas and people of various backgrounds. Seeing as how he considers Wyckoff an extremely homogenous town, this proved to be a unique and enlightening experience. For example, the sports teams at Bergen Academies combine with two vocational schools to form one team. As I’m sure you could expect, the kids on Stern’s lacrosse team at Bergen Academies (Bergen Tech for sports) came from various socioeconomic backgrounds, much different than Wyckoff.
Matt recall’s his freshman year on the varsity team. There was one senior in particular who really inspired him to plant the seeds of the Spread the Lax movement. Around the first game of the season, he approached Stern in the locker room to asked him for a pair of cleats that he could use for the season. Unbeknownst to Matt at the time, the upperclassman had to support himself financially, living on his own with his infant sister, working part-time jobs after school on top of lacrosse practice to support his family.
Luckily, the Bergen Tech lacrosse program had older equipment and sticks that he and others were allowed to borrow during the season, but the fact that anyone had to ask a teammate for a pair of cleats really moved him. Matt often reflects on this moment as he was really fortunate to cross paths with this particular teammate because he exposed him to a struggle that he believed others must be facing – as sad as it is, his story is not unique. It brought the realization that many other players and cities aren’t even able to start or join teams due to how expensive the sport can be. For everything that lacrosse has given Stern, he felt it was only right to allow others to experience the joy and lessons that the sport can bring. This is how Spread the Lax was born.
Getting the Wheels Turning
Much to the credit of a very ambitious kid, the organization was officially started right before the summer going into his sophomore year of high school. It began by collecting new or used equipment and sticks through the help of local retail stores and recreation departments.
Additionally, in conjunction with the Wyckoff Rec. department, Stern organized donation drives during lacrosse registration, using their office as an equipment drop-off location, which he promoted to the local community through email correspondence.
Around the same time, a Bergen Tech teammate who worked during the summer in the Paterson, NJ city-wide summer recreation program, wanted to introduce lacrosse to the kids of Paterson.
Given what he was already involved in, Matt was invited to help run the introductory clinics for about 40 elementary-middle school boys and girls throughout the summer as the kids were given plastic sticks to learn the game of lacrosse.
The kids loved lacrosse so much that Paterson Rec. Department decided to have the program back for the following summer. The clinics were in motion and the donation effort was in full-force. Stern spent many weekends at summer tournaments around the greater-New Jersey area with a banner, tent, and marketing materials in hand.
Matt’s efforts were rewarded by the local lacrosse community. He estimates that he collected over $10,000 worth of sticks and equipment at the various tournaments he attended. After accumulating enough lacrosse gear to field a team, he went to Paterson first, but struggled to find support. Still persistent to make sure that the right kids would find their way into his equipment, Matt linked up with a Coach Dudley in Newark, NJ, who was looking to revive a youth team in a struggling neighborhood that had disbanded nearly 10 years prior. It didn’t take long to convince Matt that this was a fit and he helped make their dream a reality.
Full Steam Ahead
Let’s remember, this all happened before he became a senior in high school. Over this past summer, Matt went to Newark to teach the game to about 200 4-8th graders in the Newark public school system with real sticks. The program was received incredibly well by the kids, and the lessons almost served as a prerequisite to the youth teams in Newark that Matt is expecting to start in the spring along with Coach Dudley. They’re expecting a huge turnout and ultimately would love to see the kids use the sport as either a positive outlet in their lives, or even better, a chance for them to get a college eduction.
On top of growing the game in Newark, in December he took a 50 pound bag of gear to Israel to leave with the Israel Lacrosse Association to teach and mentor kids. Touring the country with the ILA, they used the donated equipment to run clinics during a number of middle school gym classes. They even took their efforts to a school five-miles off the Gaza Strip and had the opportunity to teach kids the importance of what lacrosse can do for their lives despite all of the violence constantly surrounding them.
YOU Can Spread the Lax!
A month or so ago, Matt received an email from a coach on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota looking to form a lacrosse team. It was that email that reinforced Matt’s commitment and the reason you’re reading about his cause right now. Numerous communities and coaches across the world are fighting to get their hands on more gear to grow the game in their own way, and that’s a good problem to have. But, it’s not comparable to the problems of our brothers and sisters on the Pine Ridge Rez.
Indian Country Today didn’t hide from reenforcing that the conditions on the reservation were liked to that of a third-world country. Around 60% of the population is without running water and/or electricity and the average household income is less than $4,000 a year. The kids living there need something positive in their lives that can aid in their pursuit of higher education, and what better than the only game that has a significant cultural connection to their community?
This is where you come in. The interest is already growing in Pine Ridge and the plans to start with a team of 30 kids is in place. The plan is geared toward exponential growth of lacrosse in Pine Ridge for the future. Matt is in collection-mode and is gathering up enough equipment and sticks for the winter through spring season to get them going. He also is making plans to travel to the reservation next summer to meet with the players and aid in their growth, knowledge, and expansion.
On top of gear donations, there is one really easy way to help out the Pine Ridge Reservation! Matt established the “Sponsor a Player” program. For a contribution of $35, you can cover the equipment costs for one player. Visit the website to learn more and make your donation to the cause!
I highly encourage you to help Matt out. He has found a way to stretch $35 to make sure that these kids can play the game we all love. That’s chump-change to most of us compared to what we spend on gear each year. Let’s help our brothers and sisters in need!