Lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, and thanks to the USVI Lacrosse Association it will be making its way to the territory in the near future.
The USVI Lacrosse Association is a nonprofit organization based on St. Croix that is committed to introducing the sport to Virgin Islands athletes and coaches. The mission of the organization is to teach lacrosse and create new opportunities for V.I. athletes locally, regionally and internationally.
Leslie Highfield-Carter, who was born on St. Croix and is a graduate of St. Croix Country Day School, is the president of the USVI Lacrosse Association. Her previous work in the territory includes roles as the marketing and promotions director for the Sunny Isle Shopping Center and lead anchor for WSVI Channel 8 News. (St. Croix Country Day School has since merged with The Good Hope School and is named Good Hope Country Day School.)
Richard Carter, her husband, played college lacrosse at Villanova University and is the executive director of the association. Carter also is a former administrator at The Good Hope School in Frederiksted and a former board member of the St. Croix Dolphins swim team.
“Lacrosse has become the fastest-growing sport at all levels in the continental U.S., and it’s time to bring it to the territory. We want to bring that momentum and opportunities to the V.I.,” Highfield-Carter said.
Lacrosse is a game created by Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans. Historically, the game was used to settle disputes and was played to honor the creator and heal people. The modern version of the game is played in more than 60 countries and is being considered to become an Olympic sport in 2028 when the games will take place in Los Angeles.
The sport involves a high level of creativity and can be played almost anywhere in small or large groups. You can practice stick work on a wall, play indoor lacrosse at a gym or outside lacrosse on a soccer-sized field.
Young athletes all over the world are gravitating to the game and the sport has already started making inroads among Caribbean nations. Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Haiti, Barbados and Jamaica are all recognized by World Lacrosse. The Caribbean nations will be part of the Pan American Lacrosse Association, which will be made up of lacrosse teams from the Caribbean, Central America and North America. PALA falls under World Lacrosse, which has 65 member nations and is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
There are 26 percent more college lacrosse programs in the United States in 2020 than in 2010, meaning Virgin Islands athletes that excel in the sport will have another avenue to attend mainland universities through the sport.
Highfield-Carter said the reason the sport is growing so quickly is because, “athletes, coaches and fans find lacrosse to be a highly creative, fast-paced and an extremely fun sport to be a part of.”
The USVI Lacrosse Association has a 12-member board that is committed to bringing the game to Virgin Islands youth and has a preliminary plan for how to introduce it to the territory.
They are working with members of Harlem Lacrosse – a stateside nonprofit organization that aims to change the life trajectories of at-risk youth through daily academic support, mentoring, leadership training, college readiness career exploration, admissions counseling and lacrosse instruction – on the best ways to introduce the sport to the community.
Harlem Lacrosse has programs set up in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
The senior director of Harlem Lacrosse and coach of Frederick Douglass Academy High School Boys Lacrosse in New York, Mike Murray, has family roots in St. Croix and is a member of the USVILA board.
Murray’s mom and grandfather are from the island, and he said he remembers the weird looks he would get from his cousins when he brought his lacrosse stick out. He thought to himself that maybe one day he could help introduce the game to the Virgin Islands. When the opportunity arose, it felt like a dream come true, he said. Now he hopes his younger cousins and other athletes in the territory will have the opportunity to learn the game.
Murray talked to the Source about the transferable skills lacrosse teaches, such as perseverance. Even though the coronavirus pandemic canceled Harlem Lacrosse’s season, they had the highest team GPA in five years. Grades and being a good teammate are important factors in making the team, Murray said.
Access to grassy fields and the year-round beautiful weather in the territory provide great conditions to play lacrosse consistently, he said.
Murray’s main goal with the USVI association is to “affect positive change, use lacrosse as a vehicle to change lives and create better opportunities and help put Virgin Islands lacrosse on the map.”
The success and impact of Harlem Lacrosse was featured in the New York Times last year.
The USVI association has the support of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and will be working with Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Calvert White to introduce the game with the support of local athletic and recreational organizations and agencies.
“This is going to happen very quickly, and we want people to be involved,” Highfield-Carter said. The program plans to begin activities on St. John within 30 days.
Motivated individuals on all three islands who would like to get involved can contact the organization at [email protected] or 203-648-8357 for more information. Prior experience with lacrosse is not required since there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the game.
The association can be followed on Instagram at @usvi_lacrosse and on Facebook.