Black Girl Magic!
A majority Black Detroit high school is changing the face of lacrosse, The Guardian reports.
Cass Technical High School is a public magnet school in Detroit, Michigan, where 85% of the school's population is Black. It is one of only 37 schools in the state that offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and boasts an elite list of alumni, including Diana Ross, Big Sean, and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Despite its long list of offerings, the school only had three sports for girls, with a student roster totaling 2,400 students. This left more than 1,000 girls with no opportunity to play spring sports. In 2019, when Cass Tech introduced a boys' lacrosse team, Deja Crenshaw and Alexia Carroll-Williams petitioned them to add a girls team.
"Lacrosse is something that you don't usually hear about in urban cities. It's really important that we give people the opportunity to play a sport that they may not have ever heard of," Crenshaw said.
Soon after, coach Summer Aldred was given the green light to extend her work with the boy's team to girl's, teaching an introductory lacrosse skills course. More than 30 girls attended the first sessions, and Aldred quickly expanded the courses. She finally got permission from the school to start a girls' team in 2020.
The school did not provide funding, but Aldred was able to pull in local donations, including a $10,000 gift from a Cass Tech alumnus. On March 9, 2020, 55 girls showed up for tryouts, a staggering number since only 3% of college women lacrosse players are Black. Lacrosse is traditionally a Native American game, but many of the players are white.
The team was cemented, and students were ready to take over, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It shut down schools and devastated the city of Detroit. More than a year later, students still waited to play.
This past March, practice resumed, this time with only 15 girls showing up; many focused more on getting out of the house than playing. The year had taken a toll emotionally and mentally on the entire city, and the teammates and their coaches worked hard to recruit more girls. However, many were not able to play due to their parents hesitancy about the coronavirus.
Zahria Liggans, the senior captain, team goalie, and board member of Teen Hype, a youth development nonprofit, began working on a documentary about the impact of COVID-19 on student-athletes. She included the testimony of Carroll-Williams, now a senior, and her sister Kayla, who both used lacrosse as an outlet.
"It made me feel good because I was doing the same thing over and over every day. Being on the field, it's like an escape from reality," Caroll-Williams said.
"On the field, we just see each other. Lacrosse is something that we can connect in and talk about. And I look up to her because she knows how to play," Kayla said of her sister.
The sport also helped Liggans with her mental health and physical health. She felt like she regained balance, control of her life, and joy.
"It has helped me find happiness in the now," she said.
The team began their season with 18 players, 14 of them being Black. The team played their first game two weeks after their first practice, kneeling during the national anthems before taking the field. The team has struggled to navigate the politics of sport, standing out like a sore thumb in a space that is 90% white. Assistant coach Christianne Malone says she knows the feeling all too well, playing the sport since 6th grade as one of the few Black students on the field. She says not much has changed with the sport since she graduated in 2000.
"It's still not nearly as diverse as it could be by this point in time. Twenty years later, it's almost the same demographics as it was when I was first playing," Malone said.
"It definitely is an uncomfortable feeling when all eyes are on you, and everybody else is standing, and you're kneeling. But at the end of the day, change has to come. And if you're not uncomfortable, you're not willing to change," said Liggans.
Cass Tech lost their first six games, the last being the straw that broke the camel's back. After the captains called a team-only meeting, the girls returned with new vigor. They rededicated themselves to perfecting their craft and winning a victory against Avondale High School. They came out on top with a score of 13-6. The girls cheered and celebrated, not just because they won, but because they waited so long just for the opportunity.
They hope that they will be able to change the face of the sport and inspire other Black girls to get into lacrosse.
"It's OK to step into these spaces where there might not be a lot of you because you can open up a channel for somebody else, for people who look like you," said Liggans.
"I really hope that it grows so much that I see more Black people playing, Black girls especially," Carroll-Williams added.
Photo Courtesy of Sylvia Jarrus/The Guardian