Little sister is one of the boys

With no girls lacrosse team at Forest Park, freshman Anne-Elyse Barnwell joined the boys squad, where she is the starting goalie and her older brother's teammate.


As the Forest Park boys lacrosse team lines up to shake hands with the opposing team after the game, the Foresters' opponents look surprised and begin whispering among themselves.

The Forest Park goalie is no longer wearing a helmet. At that moment, the players realize their shots had been stopped by a girl.

Freshman Anne-Elyse Barnwell is the Forest Park goalie and the only girl on the team.

"Most people in school don't even know my name, but they know I'm the girl who plays lacrosse," Barnwell said. "All people are created equal, so I don't see why a girl can't play on a boys team."

Forest Park did not have a lacrosse team last year and was able to field only a boys team this year. According to Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association guidelines, if a school offers a sport for one gender, but not the other, the excluded gender can try out for the team.

"We try to entice young ladies to come out and play, but when you only get two or three that sign up, obviously you can't have a team," Forest Park athletic director Obie Barnes said. "If we go through that process again [next year] and don't come up with a female team again, then I'd be more than happy to see her in goal on the boys team. I can only see her getting better."

Barnwell's older brother and teammate, Keith Barnwell, says having a girl on a boys team is not that uncommon anymore.

"You see this more and more often because I had to wrestle a girl in wrestling season," said Keith, a junior who also plays football. "It was the worst thing I ever had to do in my whole life. I felt terrible because you're not supposed to treat [girls] like that. I'm not going to let her win, because as soon as she stepped out on that mat she was a man in my eyes. All gender disappears, and it's time to play the game."

That's the approach his sister takes on the lacrosse team.

"I don't feel intimidated," Barnwell said. "Some of the guys might feel intimidated when they shoot on me and I stop it. But when I'm out there, I'm just like one of the guys. It's pretty fun because I get along with everybody and they get along with me."

Her teammates take pride in having a girl on their team.

"It's kind of fun because we are the only team with a girl on our team," Forest Park midfielder Dwayne Morris said. "She's up to our level, but she's like everyone else. I see her as a girl and a team member, and a friend, too."

Making the team did not come easily for Anne-Elyse - although it wasn't a question of her athletic ability. She had transferred to Forest Park from New Era School in Cherry Hill at the beginning of the semester and was academically ineligible for the first part of the season.

"She was amazing," said Marcia Barnwell, Anne-Elyse and Keith's mother. "She went to school early and stayed at school late. She understood that her completing her work was important and she went beyond the call of duty to get her work up to be able to play. She's starting to find her way now academically."

Anne-Elyse has demonstrated a similar drive toward lacrosse.

"She's shown a lot of dedication and determination," Forest Park coach Sean Markley said. "She used to run around on the track on her own without being told because she was academically ineligible. She used to throw the ball around on the wall to practice."

Anne-Elyse became eligible to play on April 15 and took over as the starting goalie. She recorded a 3-0 shutout against Lake Clifton in her first game for the Foresters (4-8).

"She's quick on the ball," Markley said. "She's not scared of the ball at all. She has bumps and bruises and wants to stay in the game. I definitely base the future on her being in goal. We have a bright future and with her in the goal it's brighter."

She also has had a big brother looking out for her.

"At first it was kind of weird because my sister, my baby sister, is on the same exact team as me," said Keith, a starting defenseman. "But after a while, it's actually kind of good because I don't want anybody to hit my sister or hurt my sister. It's kind of a big brother instinct that makes me play better because my sister's in the goal.

"If someone pushes her off her bike, I'm going to go out and do the same thing to them that they did to her. It's kind of like that out on the field. I'm not going to let anybody do something like that to her."

Anne-Elyse appreciates her brother's protection - up to a point.

"Sometimes it's cool with him being protective, but sometimes he gets over-protective," Anne-Elyse said. "Like one of the guys on the team will be talking with me about something and he'll yell, `Hey, get away from my sister.' It's a big joke now. They tease him about that now."

Keith and Anne-Elyse are the youngest of six children and the only ones who play lacrosse. "When we're at home, we have big bushes in the yard that are about the same size as a goal, and we work on her [goalkeeping]," Keith said.

He also has adapted to Anne-Elyse's role as the leader on defense. She spots open players and often yells out instructions.

"I try to pretend like she's my mom so that I forget that it's my baby sister telling me what to do," Keith said. "She sounds just like her. I try to think that my mom just told me to do something and I just do it. It's easier that way."

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