After being canceled last year due to the pandemic, the USA Lacrosse Sankofa Clinic Series returned again this year to Roberson Middle School, where it was held on Saturday, March 5.
“We’re still trying to get back to normal,” said Roberson Coach Ernest Webb, explaining how the pandemic had mostly halted the school’s lacrosse program for the past two years. “These kids are all new to the sport, so the clinic is a really good opportunity for them. We hope it inspires them.”
The Sankofa Clinic Series – a partnership between USA Lacrosse and the Sankofa Lacrosse Foundation – offers free youth clinics for boys and girls, bringing Sankofa-affiliated players and coaches from around the country to provide hands-on instruction, in an effort to broaden the impact of lacrosse and make the sport accessible to a new generation of players who might otherwise not get the chance to participate.
Roberson’s lacrosse program, first launched in 2017, is made possible in part by funding and support through USA Lacrosse and that organization’s Urban Lacrosse Alliance, which works to help develop youth lacrosse programs in underrepresented communities.
As one of the district’s schools of choice – and a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School recognized for closing student achievement gaps – the day-to-day focus at Roberson leans heavily on the school’s specialized math, science and fine arts programs. Webb, who runs both the school’s lacrosse and award-winning wrestling programs together with fellow Roberson Coach Cory Idlebird, sees the unique, non-UIL sports offerings as opportunities to complement the curriculum and open up students’ horizons while encouraging them to stay healthy, active, and well-rounded.
“What we’re trying to teach them is not necessarily just the game of lacrosse, but also about habits,” Webb said. “Hopefully they’ll learn about how to have a good work ethic, because that’s how you get better. That’s how you excel, at anything in life.”
Despite its roots and proud history among numerous Native American tribes long before the arrival of Europeans on the continent, lacrosse has long been associated more with New England prep schools than urban districts in the South or Southwest, or with schools in poorer communities. According to USA Lacrosse Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Donovan Dennis, that’s something their organization is working to change, through initiatives like the Urban Lacrosse Alliance and the Sankofa Clinic Series.
“Our goal is to spread the sport,” Dennis said, “and just get sticks in everyone’s hands, no matter what you look like, your skin color, where you’re from. It’s a sport of healing, and it’s a sport for everyone.”
Like the Roberson students he and his coaching team were working with on Saturday, Dennis also started playing in middle school, and continued until an injury in college ended his formal playing career, eventually leading him to his role with USA Lacrosse.
He still remembers how few other minority players he encountered during his own early years in the sport, and explained that initiatives like the Sankofa Clinic – with its diverse coaching staff – are about leveling the playing field and ensuring that everyone feels welcome.
“It’s about them realizing, ‘They’ve had success in it, so I can have success in it,’” Dennis said. “We’ve tried to make it so they have someone to look up to.”
The event over the weekend brought out not just the current Roberson students looking to build their lacrosse skills, but also former Roberson students who attended as volunteers to help run the clinic, support the younger players, and maybe pick up a few pointers themselves.
Spring Early College Academy freshman Esteban Cervantes said lacrosse had become an important part of his life when he was attending Roberson, where he used lacrosse practice as a positive outlet to help him deal with the stress of his parents’ divorce.
“The sport was something to take my mind off of anything hard going on in my life,” said Cervantes, who also credited Webb and Idlebird for believing in students and working hard to grow the program from the ground up. “The coaches are really supportive. Anything I needed, they were there for me.”
Carl Wunsche Sr. High School sophomore Brendan Huynh was also on hand to help out with the event. Adding to Cervantes’ praise of the sport, Huynh said lacrosse helped him calm his mind and focus his attention in ways that have benefited him both on and off the field.
“Honestly, I love this game,” Huynh said. “Like anything in the world, it takes a lot of time and dedication. You just have to make sure you put in those hours, that you’re disciplined enough to keep going, and be patient enough to see you’ll succeed in the end.”
With no Spring ISD high school currently offering a lacrosse program, Huynh – who has his eye on scholarships to play at the collegiate level, and potentially beyond – now trains and plays with a local community team outside of the district, but said it was gratifying to come back and share his love of the game with the younger students at Roberson.
“Even if I didn’t get volunteer hours, I’d still come out here and help out, to be honest,” Huynh said. “I want to see these kids succeed. And even if they don’t follow the path of lacrosse, it’s just nice to see them have fun with the sport.”