Lacrosse and the Power of Community
|This column originally appears in the December 2013 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join the over 400,000 members of US Lacrosse and receive your copy!|
Given the honor of emceeing the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction ceremony Oct. 26, I enjoyed a unique vantage point as the latest greats— Jim Berkman, Quinn Carney Burke, Michelle DeJuliis, Sue Heether, Bill Miller, Ryan Wade and Michael Watson—took the podium at the Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Md.
Photographer John Strohsacker and I sat stage right, gazing up at the inductees and out toward the sold-out ballroom into the bright lights. With no one else around and no cell phone to distract me (and no easy escape to the bar), I made it a point to absorb every word the inductees said.
Several times, either during the ceremony itself or in conversation afterword, I heard lacrosse characterized as "a tight-knit community."
I'm pretty sure I've used those same words myself when asked about the sport in which I make a living, as in, "I played in high school on Long Island and some club ball in college, nothing to write home about. But lacrosse is such a tight-knit community that people will embrace you no matter how trifling your experience in the sport may seem."
That's meant as a compliment to the sport. I still can't believe that someone with such an unexceptional lacrosse background like me would get this opportunity. I'll be in the middle of an interview with a lacrosse luminary when inevitably he or she will ask, "Did you play?" And I'll usually respond with a self-effacing shrug and some version of the comment above.
But in this sport that has grown so exponentially over the last decade but has never lost its tight-knit feel, that's usually enough to spark a meaningful or even wistful dialogue.
Only lacrosse, for example, would have me exchanging war stories with Mick Foley, the WWE hardcore legend whom I interviewed for the October edition of Lacrosse Magazine (Lifestyles, "Foley the Goalie"). Foley played lacrosse for Ward Melville (N.Y.) High, a great rival of the high school where I played my only meaningful lacrosse, Sachem. (And by "meaningful," I mean JV, with a cup of coffee on varsity.)
"I grew up in Holbrook," I said, "playing for Sachem."
"Big rivalry," Foley replied. I remember playing the Sachem kids. We were all a little intimidated by the fact that the kids at Sachem tended to be more Italian. They developed hair on their bodies before the little kids in the Three Village District did. It was basically little kids playing against grown men."
"Guilty as charged," I said, "although I'm mostly Portuguese."
Foley seemed more at ease talking to me after that exchange. And to be honest, so was I. I felt the warmth of a tight-knit community.
But I'm otherwise wary of using that phrase in this magazine. Because for all of its positive connotations, it also suggests exclusivity and elitism—the perception of a community wound so tight that it's uninviting to others or resistant to change. That's why the formation of the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance, which on the same weekend as the Hall of Fame induction fielded a team comprised entirely of black players in a fall ball exhibition, deserves recognition. As does the fact that US Lacrosse has hired its first full-time employee, Eboni Preston, devoted fully to its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Even the tightest-knit community can have many meaningful threads, like the "Play 4 Seton Hill" movement that swept across social media after the Seton Hill women's lacrosse coach, Kristie Quigley, and her unborn son died in a team bus crash. Corey McLaughlin caught up with the Griffins after they got back on a bus, literally, for the first time as a team since that tragic day.
Also, speaking of Hall of Famers, is there any doubt Lindsey Munday will be among them one day? Clare Lochary authors our cover story on Munday, the 2013 Lacrosse Magazine Person of the Year.