According to statistical data compiled by US Lacrosse, less than 10 percent of student-athletes playing lacrosse in 2011 were people of color.
It is not surprising then that many people view lacrosse as a privileged or elitist sport.
But Eastlake resident Keith Quigley is working hard to change that demographic — and perception — locally.
Quigley, founder of the nonprofit (501c3) PUCKidz (Positive Understandable Coaching for Kidz) youth sports program, has run an after-school youth lacrosse program at Feaster Charter School for the past five years.
His goal is to make lacrosse available for the masses.
Get the latest Youth Lacrosse news
covering the latest events, top athletes, training and equipment tips, and more.
That means everybody.
“In view of this statistic, our target population in Chula Vista is underrepresented in the sport of lacrosse,” Quigley explained. “More significantly, many of the PUCKidz participants and their families have never heard of the sport of lacrosse let alone had the opportunity or access to play.”
US Lacrosse, which is based in Sparks, Md., a suburb of Baltimore, is helping change that perception through its diversity and inclusion program.
An impressive assemblage of coaches from the East Coast made the trek to Feaster Charter School last Saturday to put on a clinic for more than 50 area youths, ranging from elementary school age to high school, in the target demographic group.
The two-hour event, part of the US Lacrosse Clinic Series, was put on with the help of Quigley’s PUCKidz organization with support from Feaster Charter School.
The emphasis was on fun while learning a sport that is foreign to most school children on the West Coast. Lacrosse has its roots in the Native American population in the eastern part of the country.
Beth Mahr, who serves as the diversity and inclusion manager at US Lacrosse, helped direct last Saturday’s clinic. She’s held the position for two years.
Mahr noted that through sports, children are introduced to a diverse group of people — teammates of similar age who may become close friends, coaches who teach and instruct through practices and games, officials who serve as authority figures on the field, opponents who present obstacles to overcome, and parents of teammates and opponents.
All of these people make a significant impact, positively and negatively, on kids at a very impressionable time, she noted.
The US Lacrosse Clinic Series will touch base in eight regions during the calendar year. The Chula Vista stop was the first in 2018.
The goal is beautiful in its simplicity:
“We want to bring lacrosse to all communities in all areas and provide programs for people to play the sport who might not otherwise be able to do so,” Mahr said. “I’ve been able to meet so many different people in so many different communities. Interacting with the kids and coaches is my favorite part of the job.”
Lacrosse is becoming more popular at the high school level within the ethnically diverse Sweetwater Union High School District. Quigley serves as head coach of the Olympian High School boys lacrosse program. Also on hand for last Saturday’s clinic was Southwest High School girls lacrosse coach Jerry Nestlerode.
PUCKidz has been working to provide free lacrosse programs, equipment and school curriculum to promote lacrosse to students who would not have the chance to participate. PUCKidz has received national recognition from US Lacrosse and organizations like the Bill Belichick Foundation for its efforts in promoting sports as a tool to impart in diverse youth the necessary skills to realize their full potential in life.
Quigley was encouraged by the turnout for last Saturday’s clinic.
“I was so thrilled to see so many kids out there participating in this event,” he said. “I simply wanted to get as many kids out there as possible because I didn’t want them to miss out on this wonderful opportunity to receive training from US Lacrosse coaches.
“PUCKidz has developed a very strong and positive relationship with US Lacrosse,” Quigley elaborated. “They are so supportive of what I’m trying to do here in the South Bay. For them to come out and run this clinic for my PUCKidz program is a big deal. Definitely a day I’ll always remember.
“It was so awesome to see all the different ethnicities participating in this clinic. This is where lacrosse needs to go — add some more color to the game.”
Feaster Charter School and PUCKidz have also developed a very strong partnership. About 1,250 children attend the west side Chula Vista school, which includes both elementary and middle school classes.
Joseph Guglielmo, the school’s athletic director and physical education teacher, said the youth after-school lacrosse program complements the school’s existing flag football, soccer, basketball, baseball and volleyball programs.
He said the lacrosse program is a great fit for children looking for something different in which to become involved.
“For kids who don’t think they fit the athletic mold for more popular sports, lacrosse is something they can get involved in and actually be athletic in,” Guglielmo explained.
“When they put on a helmet and see all the equipment, the kids think that’s cool.”
Guglielmo said lacrosse has become a real draw for younger students at the school.
“When we first started, it was for middle school students. That ran for about a year. We found that the older kids weren’t as open to anything new, so we opened it up to younger kids, who were more open to new things.”
New experiences help expand personal horizons, of course.
“The school is so supportive of what I’m trying to do,” Quigley said. “So many life lessons can be taught through the game of lacrosse.”