Four years ago, the athletes who now make up the Cass Tech lacrosse teams knew nothing about the sport. Now, they prepare for long car rides to their games. Together, they step on the field, ready to play against students who don’t look like them. And together they are helping to not only grow the game in Detroit but also diversify a predominantly white sport.
Cass Tech, Detroit’s largest public high school, has both a men’s and women’s team. During last year’s season, both teams played matches against suburban public schools such as West Bloomfield and Grosse Pointe North, as well as elite private schools like University Liggett. The men’s team finished with a season record of 5 wins and 5 losses, while the women’s record improved to 6-13.
Getting to this point took a lot of education and outreach.
“I barely knew anything about it. I thought it was just those sports you see rich people play in movies,” says Miranda Serratos, a 16-year-old junior who plays on the Cass Tech women’s team. She came across the Instagram page for the women’s team and liked how empowering it was, which led her to join what she describes as a family.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, especially in Detroit. So I wanted to be a part of something new,” she says.
The only other lacrosse teams at Detroit-based high schools are at private schools, making them inaccessible for many kids in the city. But since lacrosse started at Cass in 2019, there has been some talk of the sport coming to other schools for Detroit students. This past school year, a men’s team was formed at Detroit Edison Public School Academy, a charter school, where they got to play their first game.
However, starting a new sports program in a school is difficult, especially a sport like lacrosse.
“There just isn’t as much knowledge of what the sport is,” says Liam McIlroy, head coach for the Cass Tech men’s lacrosse team. “So we don’t have enough coaches in the area to help, but also run a program, because it’s not just coaching the game. You’re essentially doing administrative work.”
Outside of schools, too, there has been an effort to grow the game in Detroit over the past decade or so. The first lacrosse events in the city began as camps and since then picked up pace through programs created in the past few years. The first group was Sports Strings, which turned into the nonprofit Detroit City Lacrosse. Active lacrosse programs in the city include Detroit Youth Lacrosse, Detroit United Lacrosse, Detroit Box Lacrosse Association, and the Motown Lacrosse Club.
The people actively helping with the growth of the game are making it possible for youth around the city to look at lacrosse as a game that isn’t just something they see rich people play in movies.
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Christianne Malone, president and co-founder of Detroit United Lacrosse, said part of her interest in lacrosse is in challenging stereotypes of the sport.
“My goal is just to keep it going and really making connections and sharing my love of the sport, especially when people are surprised when I’m a woman, and a Black woman who plays lacrosse, and definitely don’t fit the mold of what a lacrosse player looks like,” Malone said.
Detroit United uses a grassroots marketing strategy that includes partnering with other groups to bring lacrosse to them. Malone also works alongside the head coach for the Cass Tech women’s lacrosse team, an example of how connected the people who influence the growth of lacrosse in the city are.
Malone sees lacrosse as an opportunity that kids should have access to. “We really want to continue to help empower the students in our program and give the tools, but also help to fill gaps that may exist,” she says.
She said Detroit United is working with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to continue to grow lacrosse in the schools.
Meanwhile, the sport is growing outside of schools — so much so that an alternative form of lacrosse, box lacrosse, is starting to appear in the city.
Unlike field lacrosse, box lacrosse is played in a hockey rink (without the ice), and McIlroy is using those spaces during the summer to develop a youth program based around box lacrosse in the Southwest Detroit community.
“There is no really good reason why youth in Detroit haven’t had access to lacrosse. And so thankfully, now you have multiple programs that are active in the city,” he says.
These opportunities popping up around the city are creating a gateway for the game to become more popular and more diverse.
“I’ve never fallen in love with a sport like this, like ever,” Serratos says about her experience playing so far. “Oh my gosh, I love it so much.”
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Ydaly Jimenez is a senior at Cass Technical High School. She wrote this story during The Detroit Writing Room’s journalism camp in partnership with Coaching Detroit Forward.