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Black Lacrosse Pioneers Honored At Hall of Fame Ceremony
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s a beautiful game, according to all who play it. It combines a unique blend of speed and grace and skill. The sport is lacrosse, and it’s a sport that isn’t as popular with young black kids as its supporters would like it to be. But efforts to change that are underway.
That effort took a giant leap forward last Saturday in Washington D.C. when supporters of the sport gathered to host the first ever Black Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The ceremony honored those past and present who made great strides in the sport of lacrosse and who continue to work toward increasing its popularity and presence.
The honorees were Jim Brown, a former lacrosse player at Syracuse, Tina Sloan Green, a retired lacrosse coach at Temple University and founder of the Black Women in Sports Foundation, Dr. Miles Harrison, a general surgeon at Maryland who developed the lacrosse program at Morgan State University, William Evans, a lacrosse referee who is leading the charge to secure more jobs at the division one level, and a posthumous award for Kevin Von Graham, who was instrumental in forming a youth lacrosse team, the Brooklyn Admirals.
One of the sport’s strongest advocates, Duane Milton, helped to plan and organize the Hall of Fame ceremony. The head coach of the Howard University lacrosse program and the founder of the National Black Lacrosse Leadership, Milton has been playing the sport for 30 years.
“I was exposed to the game at the age of seven, growing up in Ithaca, N.Y. I was lucky enough to have some African American kids from my community who were playing it, so we knew about lacrosse growing up, and have been involved ever since,” Milton said.
According to Milton, lacrosse exists as a club sport and not a varsity team sport because of some Title 9 restrictions. So, Milton does what he can.
“We’re just trying to be a real good club team right now. We hope to someday get varsity status and go from there. I would love to see our historically black universities pick up lacrosse as a varsity sport and do the same thing that the NCAA is doing,” Milton said. Schools that currently support programs are Morgan State, Howard University, North Carolina Central and Norfolk.
“We’re planning to have the first National Black Lacrosse Championship Tournament with those teams. We’ll crown a championship, and mirror what’s happening with the NCAA’s until we get true acceptance with our sport. It’s on the way,” Milton said.
Honoree Tina Sloane Green said she’s proud of Milton’s efforts.
“Duane has had this vision for our sport and I think it’s really wonderful to see young people looking to the future and trying not to beg for handouts, but really do things themselves”, Green said.
“It’s also wonderful to see them looking back to honor the people who paved the way before them. I feel good about the future of our sport”. Now retired from coaching, she remains active in keeping lacrosse in the forefront.
“I’m very involved in trying to grow the game of lacrosse in the urban communities, especially for black women,” said Green, who also played lacrosse internationally from 1966 to 1970. She learned the game in college.
“I started playing the sport my sophomore year in college at Westchester State University in Pennsylvania,” Green added. “I started out as a field hockey player. At Westchester State, the field hockey coach was also the lacrosse coach”.
“She recognized my athletic ability and invited me to come out for lacrosse. The rest is history”. In addition to an 18-year coaching career at Temple University, Green also coached at historically black Lincoln University.
Three of Green’s teams won national championships during her tenure at Temple. Green sites a lack of access and opportunity as reason why lacrosse has been slow to catch on in the black community, but believes events like the Hall of Fame ceremony will help spread the word.
Fellow lacrosse advocate Ayana Green-Oliver helped to coordinate the ceremony. Green-Oliver played the sport in high school and college, founded a post collegiate team in New York, and has been involved with U.S. Lacrosse ever since.
Green-Oliver also serves as the president of the women’s division post-collegiate council and is helping to launch a women’s lacrosse line, Luv Lax.
“I’m very proud that we are able to celebrate the black leaders and founders of the game who are of African descent,” Green-Oliver said.
“Lacrosse is a sport like no other. You have to play it to truly understand. It’s the best sport on two feet, as it’s commonly referred to. It integrates all the best of athletics into one”.
“You can run and gun all the way down the field, you can be physical if you need to be, it’s graceful, especially the women’s game, it’s powerful, and you have to be smart. It requires teamwork, and a level of timing and athleticism and skill that is unparalleled”.
Honorees and organizers at the Hall of Fame event agreed that a lack of African American role models plays a major role in the slow development of lacrosse, but times are beginning to change.
People like Lloyd Carter and Donnie Brown are helping. Carter is the president of Blax Lax, Inc., located in Baltimore City. Brown is one of the group’s founders.
“Our organization promotes lacrosse to the inner city,” Brown said. “We have several programs in high schools that compete each year, and sponsor an all-star game to bring together the best high school lacrosse players in the area.”
Blax Lax, Inc. also sponsors an intramural camp during the summer. Carter is a former lacrosse player at Morgan State.
“The participation in the middle schools and high schools is great. But the void we’re finding is that once they leave high school, they have nowhere to play,” Carter said.
Brown, also a former lacrosse player at Morgan State, said lacrosse literally saved his life.
“I grew up in an area in Baltimore where I just got into some stupid things. I met a coach who gave me a choice as to what world I wanted to be in. I went to a park one day to play baseball and saw lacrosse. I picked up a stick, and never looked back,” Brown said.
Blax Lax, Inc. is also involved in the push for colleges to move beyond club level status and become an NCAA recognized sport.
“I think the biggest hindrance to us is the perception that the game is predominantly a white sport and an elitist activity. But people who know the game know that it was originally a Native American sport and because of that, it really is a universal game,” Milton added.
“It just so happens to be dominated at this time by people who happen to be white. But what is going to be recognized is the definitive contributions that African Americans have played in developing lacrosse at all levels,” Milton said.
First the colleges, and then, the world.
“Someday, we hope that lacrosse will become an Olympic sport,” Green-Oliver said. “That’s our dream.”