DETROIT – Lacrosse has long been considered a pastime of the wealthy, privileged, and frankly, the white. That’s no longer the case in the City of Detroit, where yesterday afternoon, a new milestone was reached: Detroit Southeastern High School played its first-ever lacrosse game, scrimmaging the JV B squad from Warren De La Salle.
Just 16 players suited up for the Jungaleers – while the more-established De La Salle brought a couple dozen players – and the score didn’t end in their favor. The day was more about the experience for the first-time players, and making history.
“They’ve never had a real game in any situation they’ve ever been in,” said Jungaleers coach Brent Petrone. “They get to see how the game is played, the rules, how substitutions work, just the whole thing was great for them to not only see but be a part of with hands-on experience.”
The opponent was gracious in giving credit to Southeastern. Although his team was able to seemingly score at will, De La Salle coach and U.S. Lacrosse Michigan Hall-of-Famer Mike Jolly gave nothing but credit to the nascent program.
“They played hard, that’s the first thing, and they played with class,” Jolly said. “They’re getting good instruction from their coaches, and they should enjoy the game. It’s one of the most fun games to play.”
While the majority of De La Salle’s players have had sticks in their hands since fourth grade – or earlier – many of the Southeastern players picked up their crosse for the first time when team practices began just a couple weeks ago. The inexperience showed at times, but Southeastern was able to net a couple goals in the scrimmage (and a couple more with some subs from the Pilots’ squad after the Southeastern seniors had to leave early for a school function). They can take the experience against De La Salle as one to learn what they’re striving to become.
“They got to see how other individuals who have been playing for seven or eight years are playing the game, and kind of look at them as role models of the game, and how they can perform to their caliber eventually,” Petrone said. “It’s something to strive for. They got to see first how those kids are playing defense, how their midfielders are running plays, and their offense is running plays.”
The honor to be the first opponent for the city’s first public school lacrosse team is not lost upon Jolly. Even though his program is predominantly white and located in the suburbs, De La Salle has roots in the city long before its move out to Warren. The growth of the game in the urban area is an important part of stepping into the mainstream.
“It means everything to me,” Jolly said. “I told Coach Brent that if there was a competition, we would have fought hard to be the first one to play them. Our school originated over at City Airport, which is just a few miles away from here. To see what’s happening within the city of Detroit, hopefully their resurgence will mirror the growth of lacrosse. Just to come down and be a part of this is an honor for us.”
While Southeastern is the first public school lacrosse program in the city (University of Detroit Jesuit boasts the only other high school lacrosse program in Detroit), the hope is that it won’t be the last. First, the Jungaleers must reach sustainability, and that’s Petrone’s goal, with a two-year
“We just started out this year, we’re about two weeks into our season right now,” he said. “We were lucky enough to receive a two-year grant. We’re just hoping that we can get the kids in our schools excited about lacrosse, interested in it: just learning the rules and fundamentals of the game.
“We have a lot of great athletes at our school, and from there I just hope that these kids can actually do something over the next few years as they get those skills down, hopefully even looking for scholarships as they venture off into college. I’m hoping that other schools within our district will start getting programs set up next year. We’ll be able to not only face schools from the suburbs, but also in our own city.
“Then from there, just expanding and getting kids in this area excited about our sport. It’s something that’s foreign to them, but a lot can be great at it. It’s something that’s great for any kid, no matter where they’re from – income level, ethnicity – it’s a great sport for them to play.”
Petrone plays down the groundbreaking role he has played in bringing the game to a school that has had a hard enough time fielding a full football roster at a competitive level, much less a sport that most of its students have never played. However, as the game continues to grow, more Brent Petrones will be the ones to make it happen.
“I think that if we have coaches like Coach Petrone in schools being able to recruit kids to join the programs, and with administrative support, I see it growing,” Jolly said. “In the city of Baltimore, for example, the inner-city program has really thrived. It needs administrative support and dedicated coaches. The kids will come.”
At Charlevoix and Fairview on Detroit’s East Side, they’ve already started arriving.
See more photos from the event here.