Lacrosse, a sport most commonly played in the Northeast, has most recently been recognized as the fastest growing sport in the country. Traditionally known as a preppy sport, played on beautifully kept green fields, will lacrosse ever be seen as a city sport?
Sam Angelotta, founder and program director of OWLS lacrosse, thinks so and made it his mission to bring the same joy that he found in lacrosse to Chicago’s inner city children.
Outreach With Lacrosse and Schools (OWLS) is an inner city organization working toward creating sustainable lacrosse programs for schools and communities. OWLS is based in Chicago and DePaul’s own lacrosse team is highly involved, striving to help the organization in as many ways as possible.
Angelotta started OWLS after finishing a two-year graduate program at DePaul. While in school, he was a member of the DePaul lacrosse team, which is recognized by the university as a club sport.
“As I was being trained to teach in the urban environment, I had a great deal of exposure to educational research relative to the needs of inner city students,” said Angelotta. “I soon realized a desperate need for quality instruction in the areas of afterschool programming, healthy lifestyles and alternative sports opportunities.”
OWLS head coach Marcus Dent, a member of the DePaul men’s lacrosse club, has been with the program for two years and serves as a fundraising representative and program director.
“After Sam graduated, we kept in touch and he was starting OWLS over at St. Malachy,” said Dent. “He wanted me to get involved and I was really drawn to it because my high school lacrosse coach back in Philly started a similar program called LEAPS (Lacrosse Education Attitude Perseverance Success), so I know a lot about how these programs work.”
Dent was able to link Angelotta to his high school lacrosse coach, who served as one of the idea sources for the project. Angelotta also reached out to other coaches and non-profit managers around the country for ideas. He knew that he wanted to work in the inner city in order to start a lacrosse program where the sport had not yet been introduced.
“It’s hard to mention OWLS without giving credit to the place where it all started: St. Malachy School on Chicago’s West Side,” said Angelotta. “They gave me my first teaching position and a chance to start my new program.”
OWLS has been working with St. Malachy on school-based program development since the spring of 2011. What once started as a team of about 15 players, involved in an after school program at St. Malachy, has grown into development projects at four inner city schools.
“At St. Malachy alone we have over 60 boys and girls participating in lacrosse and several players currently playing in high school,” said Angelotta.
The pilot program at St. Malachy serves a student body that is 100 percent African American, and of that group, 97 percent live below the poverty level. After St. Malachy Lacrosse was established, OWLS began expanding its development projects to continue carrying on the mission of opening doors for inner city students. According to Angelotta, this was also necessary in order to create competition for teams already established at St. Malachy.
“Many of these kids grew up with broken families and don’t have too much to look forward to outside of school,” said Jack Glasbrenner, president of the DePaul lacrosse club. “It’s very positive for these kids and I know even their parents are enjoying it.”
“DePaul has been a major leader in our School 2 School Initiative, a program in which we connect inner city schools with high schools and universities that have established lacrosse programs,” said Angelotta. “The goal of this initiative is to help our student-athletes gain perspective on life outside their neighborhood by exposing them to places of higher learning.”
DePaul’s entire lacrosse team actively volunteers at the non-profit program every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“We have a rotation of about three or four of us who go each of these days,” said Dent. “They go for two hours out to St. Malachy, or wherever they are that day, and run clinics, teach them lacrosse, and really, when they’re out there, they have to support team growth.”
“OWLS has really made major strides in working with the lacrosse community within Chicago, and now they’re even reaching out to national programs like Notre Dame University,” said Glasbrenner.
This past summer, OWLS sent several children to a camp at Notre Dame. They were able to stay overnight with all expenses paid. Notre Dame also played in a round robin, or fall ball, tournament, inviting the OWLS program and incorporating a clinic afterwards.
“Notre Dame actually came out to St. Malachy’s and built an equipment shed where we can keep all of their stuff so we don’t have to keep it in the attic of the school anymore,” said Dent.
As OWLS continues to grow, DePaul’s lacrosse team strives to become even more proactive within the program. Angelotta is working toward fundraising $10,000 to start another program. Dent explains this is the necessary amount of money for “20 to 30 sets of equipment for guys and girls, getting all the kids insured through U.S. Lacrosse, and to get field space.”
“We think we have a good fundraising idea. We’ll basically run a campaign and have donation centers in the student centers of the Lincoln Park and Loop campuses,” said Dent. “The drive will lead up to a game on Wish Field this season, regular season home game, and we’ll have the OWLS program come. The children from the program will be the ball boys during the game and the fans will become introduced to the program.”
If this idea can be brought to fruition, a donation tent will be set up and fans will have the opportunity to contribute. The team is hoping to organize the charity game against one of their rivals, such as Missouri Baptist, and be able to hand Angelotta and the OWLS program a check at the game’s halftime.
“We’d like to work with DePaul in order to organize one game at Wish Field and simultaneously raise awareness about the OWLS program,” said Angelotta. “The team has even offered to host OWLS players for a free skills camp before attending the game.”
“The game on Wish Field is something that we’ve been pushing for this summer,” said Glasbrenner. “We met with the club sports director and we kind of brought up the idea to her. We think it’s very possible.”
The lacrosse team has in the past been unable to play games at Wish Field due to the lack of netting, necessary to keep fans safe from a lacrosse ball.
“Wish Field has just added new netting to a few parts surrounding the field, which would make it possible for us to hold a lacrosse game,” said Glasbrenner. “What they told us is three of the four areas deemed ‘dangerous’ have been covered with proper netting that will withhold a lacrosse ball, so there’s just that one extra area in need.”
“The game would show these kids that people are out there who care for them and support this program a lot,” said Glasbrenner. “Lacrosse is such a growing sport and most of the teams that we play have their university’s support. It would be nice to have our university support us.”
“It is my feeling that with the new direction of DePaul lacrosse,” said Angelotta, “with an emphasis on community service, we can make this wish come true.”