This article, as told to Matt Hamilton, appears in the April edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, which includes a special 12-page section featuring faces and voices of the black lacrosse community. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.
I grew up in Southside Queens. The only other person that you know from there is 50 Cent. People laugh, but that’s where I’m from.
I moved to Uniondale on Long Island in fifth grade. Like any kid in the city, I played football and basketball. A lot of the kids in Uniondale had sticks. I was like, “What’s that?” They told me it was lacrosse. I said, “I’ve never heard of it.”
At my middle school, Turtle Hook, they put a team together. The coach came over to do the team meeting, and I was just straggling around. He walked over to me and asked me what my name was and where I was from. I told him, “I’m from Queens, and I know the game because of your goalie,” who was my friend. He pointed to an extra stick and said, “Hey, this is your stick right here. Come try out next year.”
At Uniondale, I played with a lot of African-Americans. We were going through the same things — with single-parent homes and a lot of guys who lived with their grandparents. My family was going through hard times. We got evicted from our house in Uniondale in 10th grade, and we moved to Hicksville.
When I got to Hicksville, that’s when I started noticing things. I was an attackman when I started playing lacrosse, but I was being moved to midfield. I was told it was because I was “faster and more athletic,” but I’m generally a good feeder even to this day. It hurt me in my development, because I had to learn a new position.
Stereotypes are big in our game. Myles Jones, we call him the freak and the beast. He’s not just Myles. He scores and he does a little celebration, it’s like, “Look at that beast.” It’s not just, “Look at Myles score.” We have to hold everybody to a higher standard.
I went to Onondaga Community College, where they quickly moved me to d-middie, because I was fast and athletic. When I was at OCC, I got suspended in the beginning of my sophomore year for an incident that happened at an off-campus party during fall ball. There was a kid there whose father coached at one of the [local] high schools. He had tensions with some of my teammates and just seemed agitated. I walked by him, and I didn’t know the guy. He muttered the N-word. I was taken aback by it.
A fight breaks out because two of my teammates were highly offended by it, and I wasn’t in it. By Monday morning, I was suspended, and everyone at the party was as well.
They would try to press charges on me. I was by myself at college. It was a scary thing to go through. I’m not a bad guy, and I don’t have a record. I grew up in Queens, but I wasn’t one of those guys. I remember how alone I really felt. I thought my career was over.
Those weren’t the types of parties that I liked going to. I liked dance parties. But I had to try to fit in, which a lot of black players do. You don’t want to seem like you’re not one of the boys.
I transferred to NYIT and then Salisbury after an injury. I played for Coach Berkman. Hands down, first-class program through and through. Coach Berkman doesn’t tolerate [racism]. He’s someone who genuinely changed my life for the better. Everyone has a little evil chip on their shoulder, and he was someone who crushed that for me and taught me what hard work is.
We can’t allow our kids to just show up at practice and go home. We have to engage them and talk with them. Even if it’s a buddy system. The kids don’t know each other enough on these teams.
Now, I’m a black coach at Monroe Community College, and it gives me a sense of pride. I coach because I’m hoping to give more opportunities to these kids. I’m hoping some kid out there sees me and believes he can be a head coach. That gives me joy every day. It’s an accomplishment for all of us.
I want to get past this topic and figure out how we can find the next Shaun Church. We have to keep this thing going, and I’m one of the ones that want to be positive in this movement.