Lacrosse Growing In South L.A.

(Excepts from San Francisco Chronicle’s “SFGate” Forum)

Thursday, May 29, 2008:  Sean McKeon, of slight build with bone white teeth, is trying to hit a bottle cap with the end of his lacrosse stick. His unlikely band of lacrosse players, a handful of Latino and African American youths, surround him. They are cajoling him for has inability to hit the bottle cap. He wiffs, but can’t seem to hit it.

“I couldn’t do it, so they all made fun of me,” the 31-year-old explains. “I kept on swinging at the bottle cap until I finally hit it. They would have just given up.”

That scene comes from his first year as a coach at Manual Arts High School, five years ago. McKeon had come to South Los Angeles’ potholed streets and fortified homes because he felt empty and needed something to fill him emotionally. He had bumped through seven on his wending route from his native Chicago to Los Angeles, and the only constant in his life was lacrosse, a game similar to soccer except players wear helmets and carry netted sticks.

His idea was to bring this game, with its prohibitively expensive equipment and its associations of white privilege, to the ghetto.

This year, McKeon started his fifth season as Manual Arts’ lacrosse coach. The team, in 50-plus games played, has won only two through this year, another winless season. But McKeon’s roster has swollen to 60 players. The high school, with 4,000 students, also has a girls’ lacrosse team, which practices next to the boys’ team on the gloriously bald and litter-strewn field. Further East, McKeon’s LAX in L.A. program has started girls’ and boys’ teams at Huntington Park High School, and a boys’ team at a middle school close to Manual Arts.

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