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"The frightening thing is how quickly the process is going, but unfortunately, we have to keep up with the bandwagon," says Sam Bartron, head of Team 180. "These college coaches are really paying attention to who is out there when they are much younger. And the disadvantage we have in Colorado is that we have to travel everywhere to be seen by coaches. We have to get these kids up to speed with their East Coast rivals, who have tournaments every weekend, coaches buzzing around everywhere. We just don't have that here."
Lacrosse has already introduced Joanne and Jaden to Kent Denver, with its rolling green campus, its hallways decorated with flags from top liberal-arts colleges, its locker rooms where you can leave your stuff lying around and not worry about it getting stolen. If not for lacrosse, they would never have thought of applying here: Many of their City Lax coaches are Kent alums, and several teammates on their competitive teams are enrolled there.
"City Lax is a big piece of it," Tom Graesser, Kent's assistant head of middle school and the boys' varsity lacrosse coach, says of Joanne and Jaden's applications. "Seeing the real tangible evidence of the things they've accomplished, it's very impressive. The joie de vivre they've shown despite having a tough road is pretty cool."
The fact that both Erik and Rod worked their Kent connections when the twins applied here didn't hurt, either. "In my time here," Tom adds, "I've never had so many people come up to me and say, 'These are kids you've got to have.'"
Combined, it was enough for Joanne to score a full academic scholarship starting next fall, when she'll enter ninth grade — but not necessarily enough for Jaden. His future at Kent is still up in the air; he won't hear until late May whether he's been accepted, and if he is, he'll have to repeat eighth grade and figure out how to cover the school's $20,000-a-year tuition without an academic scholarship.
Erik, Rod and others are confident enough that they're already working to scrape up the tuition money, as well as cover travel expenses associated with the twins' many summer tournaments. But even if both Joanne and Jaden attend Kent next year, they know it won't be easy going to a school that's very different from the classrooms they're used to, the ones with Mr. Myhren at the blackboard and their mom sitting quietly in the corner. They've already glimpsed this new world at Team 180 practices, where mansions being marketed by Sotheby's line the suburban field and parents sit in designer fold-out lawn chairs and discuss mountain homes. They've seen it at Denver Elite practices, where a team mom hands out official team socks from an Abercrombie & Fitch bag. Want a few pairs in each color? That will be $54.
And they've heard stories from Trevon, who's already spent two years at Kent. He's told them how the kids drive BMWs and Ferraris, how they ask dumb questions, how one of his lacrosse teammates practices by aiming a ball at the family's brand-new Cadillac Escalade.
"I don't know if they are going to accept me for the way I am," says Joanne. "I am not really preppy. Some people would call me ghetto, but I don't care. It is what it is. I am not changing." Going to Kent will be worth it: "A hundred percent of those students go to college," she notes. "If I go to East, I could have gone to college, but it probably would have been a junior college or a community college, and I don't want that. I want to go to a real college and have a real college experience."
But to do that, she's going to have to do the one thing she struggles with: letting herself shine. Joanne's always been a great student, but something seems to hold her back. Two years ago, when big-time filmmakers who knew Erik — the son of Trygve Myhren, the former CEO of the American Television and Communications Corporation — started coming to practice to film what would eventually become City Lax, Joanne was the toughest nut to crack. When they pointed the camera at her in the classroom, she'd make mistakes on purpose. Eventually, she told them to stop filming her altogether. "I get a lot of the attention already," Joanne explains. "I'd just like for Jaden to shine." To her, it doesn't seem right to shine brighter than her friends and relatives.
But as Erik told her last summer, she can't just vroom on the lacrosse field, she has to vroom in the classroom, too — no matter who gets left in her dust. So slowly, she's letting herself go. This summer she'll be traveling around the country to City Lax premieres with Jaden, Trevon and other players, acting like a real-life movie star.
Jaden's already ready for his close-up. He'll aim that big grin anywhere: film cameras, Kent students, top college coaches. Still, these days there's something lurking behind that smile, something troubling. "Lacrosse, it's the only time I feel good," he says.