Spreading a sport

Leigh McDonald Hall, coach of the Pacas youth teams, has brought lacrosse to inner-city girls - and many have fallen in love with it

Girls lacrosse

May 16, 2007|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

Myrell Redmond and Chamia Thornton knew nothing about lacrosse when they heard the announcement over the intercom six years ago at William Paca Elementary School.

The voice asked girls interested in learning about the sport to come hear about a new club team, the Pacas, based at their school.

Today, the City sophomores laugh about the reason they went to that meeting.

"Mainly, to get out of class," Thornton said, with a grin.

Little did the best friends know they would find a true passion for the sport. They played for the Pacas for five years and started as freshmen at City.

As two of the Knights' top players, Redmond and Thornton return whenever they can to help their mentor, Leigh McDonald Hall, work with the Pacas.

"We like to be a good role model for them," Redmond said, "so they can get to where we are now, so they can eventually spread the sport."

Spreading the sport would be a welcome byproduct of the program, especially for the coaches of the five city public school teams, which have no true feeder system, but that was not Hall's reason for starting the Pacas.

Hall, a coach and member of the Greater Baltimore Hall of Fame, had started a lower school lacrosse program at her alma mater, the Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, but after attending a Police Athletic League meeting, she thought her efforts were needed more in the city.

"A long time ago, I remember hearing that Baltimore's teen pregnancy rate was one of the worst in the United States," Hall said.

"The officer [at the PAL meeting] talked about the worst time for teen pregnancies being between the hours of 3 and 7, and that the kids needed something to do after school. There was a lot of talk about boys sports and I was sitting there thinking I should be doing something in the inner city rather than private school-wise."

The Pacas were born six years ago when Hall teamed up with the Parks & People Foundation.

Named for the school where Hall started the program along with her friend and former vice principal Brenda Jennings, the Pacas now include about 35 girls.

Now based at Patterson Park, there are the Little Pacas for girls in fourth through sixth grades and the Big Pacas for girls in seventh and eighth.

"Each year, we've gotten more kids, but the hard part is keeping them, because they disappear so easily," Hall said.

"If their phone's cut off, I can't get ahold of them. Some of them like it so much that if they get in trouble, their parents punish them and take it away from them. Some of them they don't get into a rhythm yet and then they stop coming. Some really grab hold and come back for practice, for games and they even call me if they can't make it."

Hall, who coaches both teams, puts in a lot of work calling girls before games, checking up on them and making sure they know when they are supposed to be at games and at practices.

DaShawn Green, an eighth-grader at Moravia Park Middle School, has been coming back for 4 1/2 years, and she plans to play lacrosse next year at City.

"I really like it," Green said. "I always have something to do and it's a good way to keep me active. Usually, I'd just be sitting in the house."

City coach Kendra Ausby, who has three Pacas on her roster, including Danica Campbell, said they have made a difference in her program.

"To have girls come in as freshmen with a couple years under their belts, it's incredible," Ausby said. "Last year, we were 5-6. This year, we're 6-3, and that's just because I'm able to spread out my 12 players evenly down the field with players who have the fundamentals of passing, catching, shooting and defense."

Thornton, in her first game at City, scored seven goals.

The Pacas program is mostly privately funded and donations have been made over the years to send players to summer camps. Sue Heether, the U.S. national team coach and a Loyola graduate, donates her time as well as equipment from her business, Sports Her Way.

Two years ago, Hall and Heether took some of the Pacas, including Redmond and Thornton, to the World Cup in Annapolis, where they met U.S. team member Cherie Greer, one of the best ever to play the game.

The girls said Greer was someone they looked up to for many reasons, including her skills, but also because she is African-American, as they are.

The Pacas' season will end June 2 with the Bridge Playday, for inner-city teams along the East Coast, in Downingtown, Pa.

Redmond and Thornton agreed that playing lacrosse has made a difference in their lives and they would encourage other city girls to give it a try.

"It's a really fun sport to experience," Thornton said. "It makes you stay out of trouble and keep your grades up, because if you don't have the grades, you can't play on the team."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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