I had to stop and press up on the cable remote. Did my ears deceive me or did I really hear that there was an HBCU lacrosse program?
Yes, I heard correctly.
Today at 12:30pm, the Hampton Pirates will officially introduce lacrosse into their athletic stable while officially reintroducing the sport BACK to the HBCU sports fold. Most didn’t know, including myself, that Morgan State actually fielded the last HBCU lacrosse program until the Bears played their final game on May 8th, 1981, a loss to Loyola of Baltimore. But what makes this story even more interesting is that while HBCU lacrosse makes its return today, this will be the first time an HBCU program plays lacrosse at the Division I level. Morgan State was a top program in D-II, beating schools such as Notre Dame, Villanova, Michigan State and Georgetown during a five-day span. But Hampton will now be one of the 70 schools in D-I and the first, and only, HBCU program to compete at this level.
And it all starts this afternoon against Roberts Wesleyan College.
We all expect the usual comments and jokes about brothers playing lacrosse will surface and circulate, but the sport is not a new one for Black America. Names like Jim Brown, Harry Alford and Kyle Harrison were prominent figures in the sport, and that’s just on the men’s side of the game.
But these names are associated with schools such as Syracuse, Maryland and Johns Hopkins, programs with big budgets and storied traditions in the sport. So how does an HBCU school compete with these types of programs, particularly at the elite level. Well HBCU schools are all about conquering obstacles and shattering stereotypes and Hampton is no exception.
“Hampton has pioneered so many things, even going back to our founder (Samuel Chapman Armstrong), who pioneered Native American education,” said HU president William R. Harvey. “Let’s look at some things that aren’t traditionally in black schools, such as soccer and lacrosse.
“I wanted to be able to diversify the kinds of outlets our students have. The kids who play in junior high, high school, now they have an outlet. And this is almost equally important: Those kids who did not play but are athletically inclined have an opportunity for an outlet.”
The Pirates’ head coach, Lloyd Carter, was a driving figure behind the school’s adoption of the new program.
Carter was a standout lacrosse player for Morgan State. After finishing his collegiate career, he became chief of Emergency Medical Services in Baltimore and then stayed close to the sport by coaching high school lacrosse and founding Black Lax in 2002, an organization whose purpose was to attract more Black players to the sport. In 2011 he helped start the club team at Hampton and in 2015, when the school announced it was moving the program to varsity status, he was named as the team’s head coach.
“We don’t have any win-or-loss expectation,” Carter said. “It’s all about every day trying to get better and play as a team. These gentlemen are building a foundation for the future, and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
The program will face major challenges being in the elite division, especially because most of their team is relatively new to the sport.
“These guys, they don’t see it yet,”said Carter, 57, a retired Baltimore fire chief and officer with the Maryland Army National Guard. “The reason I see it is because I was there. … When I got older, I had a better appreciation of history. And that’s what I am selling these guys now. This is special because we are part of history again.”
“Growing up in North Carolina, I knew about Duke lacrosse,” junior Alex Sales said. “Other than that, I just knew you put the ball in the goal. I didn’t know positions or tactics, things like that.
“One day out on the field in front of my residence hall, I saw a D pole (long stick). Then some guys on the lacrosse (club) showed me how to scoop it up and catch and pass the ball. I just fell in love with the game.”
New York native and Hampton senior, Darrel Kidd, was a high school baseball player who was told by a friend to play lacrosse, convincing him that since he loved to hit in football, he’d be a good defenseman.
“When I was packing the car to come down here, my mom was looking for things to take out of the car because it was too packed,” Kidd said. “The first thing she grabbed was my lacrosse stick, and I told her she couldn’t take it yet.
“I didn’t know if they had lacrosse here, but I wanted to see what the atmosphere was like. The day I moved in, I saw people outside tossing the ball, so I went out and spoke with a few guys. And I joined the club.”
While this story is inspirational and heart warming, it unfortunately started with tragedy.
Six years ago, Hampton senior Michael Crawford had wanted to start a lacrosse club at the school. During his winter break, Crawford passed away suddenly on December 28th, 2010, due to complications suffered from an enlarged heart. But his mother, Verina, would not let his dream die. Determined to make his dream a reality, she connected with Carter and they helped build the foundation for what would become the Hampton Pirates varsity lacrosse team that will take the field for the first time this afternoon.
“At one point, I asked her, ‘Mrs. Crawford, do you believe in God?’ ” Carter said. “She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, God had you call the right person.’ “
They say through tragedy comes triumph, and today at 12:30pm the Pirates, Coach Carter and Verina Crawford will witness a long awaited dream become a reality.
And Michael Crawford will be smiling down on them, with his stick in his hand.