Lacrosse players coach underprivileged youth

Inner City Lacrosse is free of charge and enrolls over 50 students.
Inner City Lacrosse is free of charge and enrolls over 50 students. Photo by Peter Karalekas.

Tuning into NBC Friday night, viewers were temporarily greeted not by negotiations in Washington, but by New Haven and Hartford youth playing lacrosse.

In its daily two-minute “Making a Difference” segment, “Nightly News,” NBC’s flagship news program, detailed the efforts of Inner City Lacrosse (ICL), a nonprofit dedicated to bringing lacrosse to underprivileged youths in New Haven and Hartford. As middle school students buzzed around the perfectly green pitches of Yale and Trinity College in the background, founder and New Haven native Michael Gary described the program, which brings lacrosse players from the two schools together as coaches for students.

“I feel a sense of accomplishment, like I’ve actually accomplished a goal that I’ve been trying to accomplish for a long time,” 11-year-old Kobi Spence, who participates in ICL, said about playing her first game on “Nightly News.”

Gary founded the program, which is free of charge and currently enrolls over 50 students, this past summer. He told the News that in addition to providing underprivileged youths with an introduction to lacrosse and role models in the Yale and Trinity players, the program aims to change lacrosse’s reputation as an elite sport. Throughout the fall, he brought members of Yale and Trinity’s lacrosse communities into the program and convinced equipment manufacturers to donate the necessary lacrosse gear.

Andy Shay, the men’s lacrosse coach at Yale, said that after receiving an email from Gary during the summer he quickly signed on to the program. Shay added that while the Yale and Trinity programs have played an important part in ICL’s development, the program owes itself to Gary’s efforts.

“He did all the legwork,” Shay said.

Every Sunday until Nov. 11, middle school students from New Haven and Hartford made their way to the lacrosse fields of either Yale or Trinity, where members of the schools’ lacrosse teams coached the students for two hours. David Better ’15, who helps lead the program, said that 10 Yale students volunteered on a regular basis.

Better said that at the beginning of the fall, the Yale lacrosse players were “a little nervous” about how committed and enthusiastic the ICL participants would be.

“The kids exceeded expectations beyond anything imagined. Nearly everyone stuck it out through the whole program,” Better said. “The enthusiasm was overwhelming.”

In addition to teaching lacrosse, Gary also hopes that ICL will encourage students to look to Yale and Trinity athletes as role models and take academics seriously.

“The excitement you have on this field for this game is the same excitement you need to have at school,” Gary told the ICL participants in a “Nightly News” clip.

The program is unlikely to remain only in New Haven and Hartford for long, Better said. Gary would like to expand the program to every college along Interstate 91 in Connecticut, according to a Trinity College press release.

Gary, who was raised in New Haven public housing, told “Nightly News” that he “grew up in the section where they told the Yale students not to go.” Despite this, at age 13 he had the opportunity — through the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation — to go to tutoring sessions with Yale students, which he said had a profound impact on him.

“When I walked on Yale’s campus as a little boy going for enrichment classes, I felt so important, I felt smart,” Gary told “Nightly News.” “And so I wanted to introduce that element.”

Gary eventually went on to attend the Pomfret School and then Trinity College. He now serves as director of admissions for Phillips Exeter Academy, a prep school in Exeter, N.H.

Gary could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Better and Shay said NBC’s coverage of ICL can only help the program as it attempts to attract more students, expand to other schools and help make sports accessible to underprivileged youths.

“That publicity will hopefully be able to help foster programs in lacrosse, or whatever it is, in other cities in similar situations,” Better said.

According Nielsen ratings, “NBC Nightly News” drew an average of 10.153 million viewers for the week ending Nov. 23.

Correction: Dec. 4

A previous version of this article included a photo taken by Peter Karalekas ’15 that was misattributed to Michael Gary.

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