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Awareness the first step for high school lacrosse coaches to address racism

Marcus Craigwell is the lacrosse coach at BC High.
Marcus Craigwell is the lacrosse coach at BC High.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

In a four-year high school career at Weston High, Marcus Craigwell was the lone Black player, the same as in his one season prepping at the Kent School. He was a standout at Hobart College in upstate New York.

The Dorchester resident spent two years managing Boston’s Metro Lacrosse high school program, then co-founded the Titletown Lacrosse club team in 2015. He became coach at Boston College High before the 2019 season.

Craigwell understands that lacrosse players who hail from predominantly white towns may find it difficult to relate to the topics of police brutality and racial discrimination that have led to nationwide protests. But if the lacrosse world is to address those complex issues, players have to be open to the discussion.

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“The major problem is people hide from the topic,” said Craigwell. “Or they dismiss the conversation, but it needs to happen, especially on a lacrosse team with kids from affluent towns who can be stuck in their bubble and not realize there’s a problem.”

“Making yourself available to learn and ask questions is the first step, and that starts with the leadership of the administration, staff, all the way down to the players. That's the only way we can see change and understand what white privilege means within our sport.”

To get some of their athletes out of that “bubble,” coaches from perennial MIAA powers Hingham, Concord-Carlisle, Lincoln-Sudbury — as well as Independent School League leaders Noble & Greenough and St. Sebastian’s — have been working for years with Harlem Lacrosse Boston, a nonprofit aiming to empower students at risk of academic decline through lacrosse.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, Harlem Lacrosse has continued its virtual programming, which includes student-athletes from suburban schools tutoring and mentoring Boston Public Schools students over Zoom.

Hingham senior George Egan and St. Sebastian’s senior Dominic Scordino said that mentoring BPS middle-schoolers this year taught them a great deal about inequality.

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“Being a part of this program has definitely given me a little more of an expanded scope on the situation,” said Scordino, a Wellesley resident committed to Holy Cross. “It's given me an ability to understand the protests.”

Harlem Lacrosse was focused on its peer-to-peer fund-raising project, an 82-team virtual tournament, when protests engulfed the country. In response, CEO Mike Levin and his staff created a task force Monday to address systemic racism.

Composed of staff, board members, and Harlem Lacrosse alumni, the task force aims to support students challenged by racial discrimination, and educate community members.

“We’re closer to issues of injustice than much of the traditional lacrosse community,” said Levin. “So right now, Harlem Lacrosse is feeling a heightened sense of responsibility. The biggest role we can play is to bring people a little closer to the issues at hand.”

Kaye-Dee Pena, a member of the Harlem Lacrosse Boston advisory board, is on the new task force. She credits the program with transforming her older daughter, Deyscha Smith, who played four years of lacrosse at Mount Holyoke College and is now a staff writer for Boston.com.

Dee-Pena, who works for Blue Cross Blue Shield, was thrilled last spring when the organization helped her younger daughter, Lillian, obtain a scholarship to attend St. Mark’s in Southborough. That opportunity, which Dee-Pena said she could not have otherwise afforded, is a path that some members of affluent communities would take for granted.

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“I’d like for them to have that open dialogue with kids from the inner city,” Dee-Pena said about suburban lacrosse programs that are not yet involved with Harlem Lacrosse

“It’s important that they develop their own unbiased opinion. To be open-minded and work towards some understanding that within their bubble they live a life of privilege, one with opportunity that [inner-city] kids can only dream of.”

St. Sebastian’s coach Adam White aims to educate his players on that topic, as well as his American Literature students.

The eighth-year English teacher, who led the Arrows to an ISL title last year, said if the St. Sebastian’s school year had not already ended, he would’ve immediately adjusted his curriculum to address the topic of racial inequality. Then, it would be up to his students to affect change.

“There's a difference between thinking about [inequality] in the right way, and doing something about it,” said White.

“You hope, as a coach and educator, that some of what you’re teaching translates to other parts of life. In a way, we’ve been preparing them to think about a moment like this. That doesn’t mean there’s one right way to think about all this, but if we’ve prepared them for anything, it’s to look at issues with tolerance and compassion.”