These men all volunteer to spend their afternoons and weekends with these kids because they like what City Lax is doing. But at the risk of sounding corny, they all say that they've been the real beneficiaries. "For a while, I thought I was giving back to the game as well as supporting some kids who could use some support," says Mac. "But we've gotten a whole lot out of it ourselves."

Last Saturday, Ryan learned he didn't make the cut for the Outlaws this year because of a minor leg injury. Still, moving up and down the field with the kids, he can't stop grinning. "This is the best part of my week," he says — and he means it.

Jaden and Joanne hone their skills every day for hours, on a front yard barely large enough for their two regulation goalie nets and their bounce-back practice target, on grass worn thin by their shoes.

Anthony Camera
Rod Allison had the dream, Erik Myhren had the team.
Anthony Camera
Rod Allison had the dream, Erik Myhren had the team.

Jaden focuses on quick-stick drills off the bounce-back target — pass-bounce-catch, pass-bounce-catch — making at least fifty with his right hand and fifty with his left before moving on to the goalie net. Joanne's got a similar routine, though her quick sticks involve switching hands on her stick while the ball is in mid-flight.

And every pass, every shot, has to be faultless. Jaden is only willing to accept perfectly placed lasers to the top and bottom corners of the goal. "If it's not perfect for me, it's not perfect at all," he explains, trying one move after another. Snipe shot, top right. That's the way he is, a 100 percent athlete. Make that 110 percent, since there's always a bit extra spilling out and making his teammates better, too. Behind the back, bottom left. He's been this way since he was three years old and slept with a football. Now he carries his lacrosse stick everywhere he goes: to school, to Walmart, to a recent "Keep Denver Beautiful" ceremony where he won a prize for penning the best anti-graffiti essay in his grade. His stick's nearly as much a part of him as his smile, that big, wide grin with no calculation lurking behind it, no qualms or suspicions or doubts. With Jaden Franklin, what you see is what you get.

While Jaden keeps throwing his ball into the net, Joanne's inside, trying to cram as much information about Pennsylvania as possible into her big end-of-the-year project. She's usually as committed to school as she is to lacrosse, vrooming across the field in her bright-pink safety goggles and her blazing yellow shoes. Joanne has her brother's killer smile, too, but she's a little more particular about when she displays it. Someone's offering to buy her a new stick at Lax World? Thanks, but please make sure to get the one with the lightweight orange staff and the head that's curved a very specific way. Jaden's inviting every one of his buddies over to spend the night? Fine, as long as they don't invade her personal space.

Not that there's much personal space in the Franklin household. The place seems to have a gravity all its own, drawing friends and relatives to the cozy home filled with trophies, piles of glossy sports magazines and, tonight, the smell of an enchilada casserole. It's already sucked in Joanne's teammate Marjoya, who's helping her color in the picture of the Liberty Bell. Trevon swings by to pick up a couple of lacrosse stick heads that need to be restrung. He's become the crew's stick doctor, weaving killer pockets out of laces and mesh for the low, low price of $20 — though Jaden gets a steep discount. Soon Erik Myhren will be pulled in, too. He often stops by on evenings like this, sometimes to check on the kids, sometimes to drop off some old sports equipment, sometimes because he just doesn't want to go back to the quiet of his house.

Rosie is the sun in this particular solar system. To make sure Jaden and Joanne stay in their proper orbits, she works nights at Walmart so she can spend the day volunteering in the twins' classroom, usually arriving when the school day starts and not leaving until the final bell. When she can't be at every after-school activity at once, her 27-year-old son Dazen, who lives in the basement with his girlfriend, Andrea, plays backup to Rosie, taking his two-year-old daughter, Aniah, along for the ride.

When Bob Longmore, who would become her second husband, met Rosie in 1999, he figured something must be wrong with her. How could someone who regularly confused passing out from exhaustion with sleeping also be so sweet and kind? (Clearly he had not made the acquaintance of the Rosie who comes out at the beginning of City Lax practices, the one who's hollering at the girls because Coach Gregory is too kindhearted to do it himself: "Hurry up, Nisee! Joy, are you out there?")

"We're just a family who cares about each other," Rosie insists. "Who try to do the best as we can for the kids." But that doesn't explain the gravitational pull here, the pull that's kept Jaden and Joanne away from all the bad stuff on the streets and pushed them toward things like City Lax, the pull that seems to grow stronger with every bit of turmoil and tragedy. First Rosie's bright young nephew was hit by a car and suffered permanent brain damage. Then Bob's son from his first marriage committed suicide. After that, two relatives were killed in separate car accidents and Rosie's older sister passed away. LaCount, Rosie's oldest son, fell out of orbit completely; he's now behind bars.

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