By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
They had no pads or helmets, only a handful of old sticks and a sideways trash can for a goal, but Joanne, Jaden and a few of their classmates really got into the game. And pretty soon, everybody wanted to play.
To scrounge up more equipment, Erik made a few calls and ended up on the line with Rod Allison, an attorney active in the local lacrosse community. While Rod had never played lacrosse himself, he'd gotten hooked watching his son, Ben, play on Colorado's nascent youth teams and then at East High. At one point, Ben had developed a blueprint for an inner-city lax program as a school project — and Rod had recently decided to run with it. "We looked around the varsity program at East High, and 32 of the 35 kids were from private-school backgrounds," Rod recalls. "And as long as I had been around, there had always been people talking about opening the game up to new neighborhoods."
All Rod needed was a team, and Erik had one ready and waiting. It seemed like fate — except, perhaps, to the parents of the students who'd be taking the field. When Joanne and Jaden told their mother they were joining a new team, Rosie could only think of one thing to say:
"What the heck is lacrosse?"
Tewaarathon. That's what the Mohawk tribe called the game that gave rise to lacrosse, a massive effort that could involve hundreds of players on fields several miles across, with a name that translated to "Little brother of war."
And what funny little brothers of war were on that first City Lax team. They'd show up to games in Erik's van, a beater so decrepit that a neighbor asked him not to park it in front of her house, and everyone would pile out as though it were a clown car. Black kids, Hispanic kids and three or four white kids, all with secondhand sticks and pads, some with younger siblings along for the ride. There were sisters of war, too: Joanne and her friends were on the team, possibly the only girls in the league.
In places like Parker, Broomfield and Littleton, parents and coaches had never seen anything like it. And even more surprising than the team's makeup was the fact that they could play.
Early on, the City Lax kids realized they already knew this game. With its fast breaks, picks and rolls, and mixture of zone and man-to-man defenses, lacrosse was just like basketball — but with the added bonus of metal poles you could use to whack people. They knew this game, and they were hungry to play it. Hungry for ground balls — like Dobermans to ground meat, one of their coaches said. Hungry for speed, leaving opponents sucking air at their heels. Hungry to show they belonged on this field, so that when players or parents from other teams uttered racial epithets, they'd just work harder and then point to the scoreboard at the end of the game. These kids were so hungry, in fact, that they never realized they had absolutely no right to beat team after team of players who'd been at it for years, and that it was downright crazy for City Lax to come away from its first Jamboree with its division's championship trophy.
The next season the team moved up a division, where they discovered that hunger wasn't enough against accurate passing, precision stick control and real set plays, and they lost most of their games.
So they got good at those skills, too — and became unstoppable.
Along the way, City Lax picked up some impressive fans. Burke McHugh, a prominent businessman, opened his wallet to help get the nonprofit off the ground. Rob Gormley, director of the Denver Lacrosse Club, paints the City Lax fields when he's not helping out in other ways. US Lacrosse, the sport's governing body, is funneling in resources as part of its Bridge Program, a move to diversify the game. The list of supporters includes do-gooders from DU, Colorado State University, the Denver Outlaws, Kent Denver, Go Fast Sports, Reebok, Lax World megastore. More than 200 backers in all, many of whom spent a season or two on a lacrosse field before becoming movers in the business field. And many of them will be at this year's Jamboree, cheering on the inaugural team's final — and likely most challenging — championship tournament. City Lax is moving up to the top division this round, facing off against the best of the best.
In the meantime, the eighth-graders are spending their last weeks with City Lax imparting some of their skills, some of their hunger, to the growing group of younger players. Several players have helped coach City Lax's youngest teams, one for third-grade girls and one for fourth-grade boys.
And right now, on a warm Friday afternoon, the eighth-graders are scrimmaging with the sixth-graders, a sprawling group of boys with lots of potential but a spotty record.
Jaden, playing the game as a midfielder, wins a face-off and takes off for the goal, unfazed by the potholes scarring the field. The wet spring has done a number on Martin Luther King Park, an oasis of green in the far northeast corner of Park Hill. But at least it's better than last year, when the field was so dry the ball would send up plumes of dust when it hit the ground.