By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
And in March, another heartbreak: Oscar, Rosie's first husband and the father of Joanne and Jaden, passed away a few days after the twins' fourteenth birthday. That loss hurt Joanne and Jaden worst of all, Rosie's sure of it. But so far, the two haven't talked much about it.
Around here, often all it takes is one more bump in the road for even kids like Joanne and Jaden to go off course. "I did think they were both at risk of gang recruitment," says Terrance Roberts, founder of the Prodigal Son Initiative and a former gang member himself. "They were the popular kids, and a lot of times they target the ones who stand out the most. If they don't keep something positive in their lives, any youth may make a mistake."
Despite all the best efforts of City Lax coaches and volunteers, some players have made mistakes. A few of them with as much potential as Joanne and Jaden were real all-stars in the making — until they stopped coming to practice.
But with the extended family that's grown up around City Lax, it's getting easier to keep the teammates on track. After Kei'zuan's father was shot and killed in a drug deal four years ago, the ten-year-old wrote a poem about how his grandfather had been killed when Kei'zuan's father was ten. In the poem, he promised to break the curse: He wasn't going to die when he had a ten-year-old son. When his lacrosse teammates heard the piece, they were so blown away that they demanded Kei'zuan stand up every day in class and read them a new poem.
While that fifth-grade class spread out to various middle schools the following year, City Lax kept them close — and that spring, the team held a car wash to raise money for a new headstone for Khalil, Kei'zuan's nineteen-month-old brother, who'd died from pneumonia while the five-year-old Kei'zuan looked on.
These days, there seem to be new support systems cropping up all over Park Hill, extended families linked through lacrosse. Local youth football coaches, having heard about City Lax, are sending their players over to Martin Luther King Park each spring. Neighbors driving by Rosie's house are a lot less likely to roll down their windows and ask what the kids are doing with those funny-looking metal sticks. More and more front yards are sprouting lacrosse goals, and more and more neighbors are pulling up lawn chairs on the sidelines of the Saturday-morning games.
"I never thought it would take like this," says Rosie's grandmother Joanne. "I think it's changing the neighborhood."
At 10 a.m., the first practice of the summer season is just beginning for the junior Denver Elite teams. The green turf is brilliant in the morning sun at DU's Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, one of only two Division I lacrosse fields west of the Mississippi River. On one side of the field, working with the fifteen-and-under team, is DU assistant coach Trevor Tierney, defensive coordinator for the Outlaws, two-time All-American at Princeton, the only goalie in history to have won a trifecta of championships in the NCAA, the Federation of International Lacrosse and Major League Lacrosse. While Trevor's dad, DU coach and Denver Elite head honcho Bill Tierney, isn't around, his aura hovers over the proceedings.
Lax rats from all over Colorado, from all over the country, would do anything to be on a field like this. A few months ago, about 150 middle-school players tried out to do so, and 46 made the cut. Two were from City Lax: Steven O'Malley for the thirteen-and-under team, and Jaden for the older squad.
Stephen's on the field, warmed up and ready to go — but Jaden is nowhere to be found.
Minutes tick by. Trevor and his colleagues work their cadets through lengthy, grueling drills: catching, passing, ground balls. While it's their first time playing together, the kids seem effortlessly in sync, with none of the banter or horseplay that marks a typical City Lax practice.
Finally, 55 minutes into the two-hour practice, Jaden rushes into the stadium, his perpetual grin slightly dampened. "I thought it started at eleven!" he complains as he hurriedly pulls on his pads.
It's not that Jaden doesn't take this opportunity seriously; he and Joanne recognize all the places that programs like this have taken them, all the places these programs will take them in the future. Jaden traveled to a Texas tournament when he made the fall junior Elite team last year, and before that went to Ohio with another competitive team called Colorado Select. And Joanne, playing for 180, has dominated the field in places like Vail and Palm Springs. Their lacrosse schedules this summer will take them even further: Maryland, New Jersey, the fifteen-and-under national championships in Florida. For the twins, these trips aren't about seeing the sights; they're about letting recruiters and coaches see them. There are just sixty Division I men's lacrosse teams, far fewer than in Division I football, basketball or soccer, and just over ninety teams for Division I female players. If Joanne and Jaden hope to hold their own against other players, they have to start hustling now.