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Urban exposure
Charlotte lacrosse program reaches inner city
 
Published Thursday, February 3, 2011 8:08 am
by Herbert L. White

Lacrosse is James Verdier’s new favorite sport.

The Charlotte Condors goaltender is learning the sport from the ground up, an inner city youngster who’s taking to a game associated with the suburbs.
PHOTO/CURTIS WILSON
Charlotte Condors coach Greg Carter (right) prepares goalkeeper James Verdier for a drill Saturday at Revolution Park. The Condors earned a three-year grant from US Lacrosse’s First Stick program for startup teams.

“I think it’s fun,” said James, 11. “If you don’t play (other) sports, to me lacrosse is the one they should play because you can learn a lot of new things in it.”

The Condors are a startup program geared to attract kids from Charlotte’s urban core. The program is made up  of teams for 11-and-under boys and girls. The programs’ parent organization, Max LAX, earned a three-year grant from U.S. Lacrosse’s First Stick program for equipment. Programs in nine cities were awarded grants, which go to outfitting 20 players in startup programs. Many are in traditionally underserved communities, although it’s not a requirement.

“We’re excited,” said Condors coach Greg Carter, who organized a program in New York City’s low-income communities as a housing authority employee.

While lacrosse is a staple in the northeast, it’s just beginning to take root in the South. Many of Mecklenburg’s private schools have fielded programs since the 1990s, and the N.C. High School Athletic Association officially sanctioned the sport for public schools last year. Black players, however, are still relatively rare, especially at the elite level, although historically black colleges Howard and Morgan State field teams.

“It’s always been my dream to bring lacrosse to the underserved communities in Charlotte, because lacrosse has a history of being an elite white boys prep school sport, although that is not true now,” said Laurie Saunders, president of Max LAX, and writer of the grant proposal.

“This is an African American team, but our challenge is to have a diversified team, not only with underserved youth, but other kids whatever their ethnicity or their ability to pay.”

Carter insists finding players won’t pose an issue in Charlotte, where he is making contacts through schools and community organizations to spread the word about the Condors. James and teammates Blaine Williams, 12, and Isaiah Shembo, 11, signed up from Charlotte Secondary School, where a member of the girls’ team took a flier to campus.

“She gave it to our PE teacher and our PE teacher gave it to us three because we’re the most athletic in our school,” James said.

Lacrosse is an option to football and basketball, the team sports that generally attract the most athletically-inclined kids and the attention that goes along with it.

“It’s not a challenge at all” to generate interest among families, Carter said. “It’s great because I basically did the same thing in New York City. We went into the PJs, or the projects, and recruited kids. They were the best athletes I ever saw. The key is to get the kids who are motivated and teach them the basic skills. If there is a hurdle, it is explaining the history of lacrosse to the parents and the kids.”

The Condors, who practice twice a week at Revolution Park, start their first season in the Charlotte Lacrosse Association next month. Carter believes the ingredients for success are already in place.

“We want to recruit kids out of the box, be competitive, have fun and put them in tournaments,” he said. “We plan on doing all that. The only way we can go is up, and I love it.”

Max LAX is looking for donors to buy uniforms and game-day equipment like balls. Donors can contact Saunders at 10506 Kilmory Terrace, Charlotte, NC 28210.

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