Life, Lessons, and Lacrosse

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We live in a society where the easy questions aren’t always the easiest to be answered. Growing up in Ridgewood, Queens, I always had a roof over my head. I always had dinner on the table when I came home. I always had a bed to sleep in when it was time to call it a night. While I always viewed these as luxuries, some people hardly view it as a luxury: They view it as a necessity.

Inner cities not only make up a huge chunk of our country, they are flooded with people who have dreams, ideas and passions. These kids and adults dream just like everyone else, even while they may not have what everyone else has at their disposal.

Jazmine Smith, the owner and operator of “Eyekonz Sports League” (pronounced ICONS) in Philadelphia, created the league to give inner city African-American youth a better chance at life. Through field hockey and lacrosse, over 180 girls are now registered to play and compete in the league.

“I not only want you to be successful at these sports, but I really want you to be successful at life,” says Smith.

From starting the Mansion team with 28 girls, Smith would drive girls to and from games if they did not have any way of getting there. Smith was there for these girls, and will continue to be there for them when not too many others have. She is someone that genuinely cares about people and wants them to better themselves for their future, both academically and mentally.

Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Strawberry Mansion high school was one of the original schools in which field hockey and lacrosse teams were started at. While it is ranked as one of the most dangerous high schools in America, students that attend Strawberry Mansion have hopes and dreams just like everyone else. Two girls specifically have been impacted by this sports league that was created to give students a brighter view and image of their own futures.

Nadriah McCrae, 17, and Nadriah Gateword, 18, not only share a name, but a passion for life, sports and never say die attitude. Additionally, they not only star for Strawberry Mansion’s high school lacrosse team, they also share the similarity of being recruited by 6 division 1-3 schools to play either lacrosse or field hockey. And having a background that has been filled with loss and homelessness, quitting would’ve been the easiest thing to do. Thankfully these two girls are the personification of toughness, resilience and heart.

“It’s exciting, it’s new. It’s something we didn’t have before,” said Gateword.

When Gateword’s mother passed away from cancer, it obviously struck her with unimaginable grief. Not eating and losing weight left her suicidal. On the other hand, McCrae’s mother has been dealing with lupus for years. These stories make the result even more magical because for two young students dealing with family heartbreak and homelessness, the future may not seem so bright. But when they stepped on the field at Strawberry Mansion to play lacrosse, it changed everything. It gave each girl a reason to smile, and to excel when it appeared excelling was not an option.

The Eyekonz Sports League created an avenue for girls to not only play sports and have a good time, but for recruiters to recruit these girls of color that may not have gotten that chance before. And in McCrae and Gateword’s story, it rings true. Being recruited by multiple division 1-3 colleges across the country, something that may have seemed unreachable in the past, will now be a reality in just a couple of months.

“It’s overwhelming because I never expected anything like this to happen to me,” said McCrae.

Eyekonz Sports League should be the blueprint for communities trying to better inner city youth. It doesn’t only better the people that live in them physically and mentally, but it betters them academically as well. For these girls, something as simple as the idea of school was out of reach for most.

While this specific league was created by Smith to give inner city youth a chance at life they may not have had in the first place, it has done that and then some. It has given them hope for a future they have earned themselves. By excelling at these sports and taking the bull by the horns, it has opened the door for others to follow in their footsteps.

For Nadriah McCrae and Nadriah Gateword, next up is college. By seeing the heart and soul that these girls have, as well as every girl in the Eyekonz Sports League has, I’d expect them to take that task and run with it. It goes to show you when people are given the proper opportunity to partake in activities, they excel at it. No matter where you are from or what you believe in, hope and perseverance are two things everyone should take from these young ladies.


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