Watsonville (CA) Smashes Lacrosse Stereotypes

By Brett Manney

Lacrosse has always been stereotyped as a sport played by the rich, white, preppy, privileged young men living in the northeastern part of the United States.

Miles away from cold weather, New York pizza, and prep schools sits Watsonville High School, located in Santa Cruz County, California. Watsonville is a unique lacrosse program consisting of mostly underprivileged players of Latino heritage. They're changing the face of lacrosse.

Wildcats head coach Mike Blum is now in his third year as head coach. He is assisted by his wife Nikki Lewen, a certified strength and conditioning coach. The Wildcats are a model of success both on and off the field. They are currently 10-1 this season. In 2007, the inaugural season, the Wildcats finished 3-12, and improved to 7-10-1 last year. Yet the quick success of the distinctive program might have never existed at all if not from help of the San Jose Stealth of the NLL.

"We would have never been able to afford equipment and the other necessities of lacrosse if it was not for the Stealth" said Blum.

With some help and dedication Watsonville players began to embrace the sport--which has been a joy for coach Blum.

"The kids are playing real lacrosse and it is exciting to see the kids take to the game. They love the game and the history behind it. There is so much interesting stuff they love, like how it was started by Native Americans" said Blum.

Many of the players have never even left the Santa Cruz area. Yet lacrosse has paved a way for the players to understand and learn the game through various clinics and camps, which many privileged kids take for granted.

"We found scholarships which allowed the kids to attend camps," Blum said. "This was huge for the players to learn more about the game."

Despite not having first-class facilities, the program is built on team dedication and being mentally prepared. Blum builds the right team with good character and has even cut a good player in the past because of his attitude.

"We work on mental aspects, and if they are coachable then we win together," Blum said. "Everyone gives up their own needs for the team. We don't play to win. We play to build a social connection with teammates."

In addition to a great team attitude, the Wildcats are fortunate to receive assistance from the community. Furthermore, assistant coach Jared Chandler has been essential to teaching kids the game and devoting many hours. Blum stressed the importance of the support the Wildcats receive from their principal, parents and other people who have given these kids a chance to succeed.

Hopefully in the near future some of the players on the Wildcats will take a trip to experience lacrosse outside of Santa Cruz. This summer, seven or eight players of Latino heritage could be representing Mexico on a U-19 team competing against players from all over the country. The tournament will take place in July in North Tahoe, and Blum is excited about the opportunity these players have to represent where their families came from. The team would be a first for the country, and the players would symbolize what Watsonville is about and where they came from.

Opportunities are starting to arise for the Wildcats, despite not attending a prestigious prep school.

"The sky is the limit for these kids," Blum said. "If they continue to learn, grow, and have fun they will always be a winner."

With good deeds, quality coaching and dedicated players, the Wildcats should continue to mature. They appreciate the game of lacrosse and should be commended for their love and commitment to the fastest game on two feet--breaking lacrosse barriers along the way.

2009-04-10



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