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| Jun 04, 2024

Norwalk Junior Lacrosse Builds Greater Diversity With USA Lacrosse Support

By Paul Ohanian | Photo courtesy of Norwalk Junior Lacrosse

Nick Phillips, third-year president of Norwalk Junior Lacrosse (NJL) in Connecticut, says there is a little secret to making a new player feel like he or she is connected to lacrosse. It’s based on the same concept as Christmas morning.

“Give them new equipment,” Phillips said. “Used equipment is fine, but new equipment really helps players feel like they belong. Every child who is new to our sport feels more special with a new stick or a new helmet.”

Of course, Phillips’ goal isn’t always an affordable option for leagues or for families. But with some support from USA Lacrosse, which provided NJL with an equipment grant last year, the Christmas morning feeling is a possibility.

In recent years, NJL has made a concerted effort to bring greater diversity into its program, more closely reflecting the evolving demographics of Norwalk. Those numbers show that about 30% of Norwalk’s population is now Hispanic, and another 15% is African- American.

The NJL’s firm commitment to inclusion serves as motivation to more closely mirror those figures, according to Phillips.

“Our town is very diverse, and we’re starting to reflect that within our program,” he said. “But we have to be intentional and we have to knock on a lot of doors, repeatedly.”

One of the intentional outreaches this past winter was a free two-day intro to lacrosse in seven elementary schools. Political support from the mayor’s office helped open those doors, with over 1,000 kids getting exposed to the sport for the first time.

“Once we get in, the gym teachers become our biggest supporters,” Phillips said. “They see how much we care and how much the kids love what we do.”

Due, in part, to those types of efforts, NJL registration has grown almost 40% in the last two years, with almost 500 K-8 participants for the 2024 spring season. Phillips said that about 35% of the league’s members receive some financial aid, ranging from discounted fees to equipment.

“We never, ever let price be a reason why a girl or boy chooses not to play lacrosse,” he said.

By continuing to build and leverage community partnerships, Phillips is confident that the upward trajectory for lacrosse can continue.

“We’re really focused on branding and awareness, and trying to make lacrosse more important in Norwalk,” he said. “But we also know we wouldn't have this growth without outside support. When parents see that an organization like ours has the support of national programs like USA Lacrosse, that’s often the thing that really encourages them to sign up.”

The USA Lacrosse National Grant Program aims to reduce barriers, increase inclusivity, and fuel growth in communities throughout the country by awarding equipment, financial support, and educational opportunities to organizations, schools, coaches, and officials.

Since 2006, USA Lacrosse has awarded over 5,000 grants to organizations across all 50 states, with a total retail value of over $18 million and a direct impact on almost 200,000 youth participants. Click here to learn more about current grant offerings

It Starts With a Stick

With a gift of just $28, you are not only putting a stick in the hands of a new player but investing in the sport’s exciting future. Support USA Lacrosse and help fuel the growth of the game through the ‘It Starts With a Stick’ campaign