Founded in 2008, in Harlem’s Frederick Douglass Academy, Harlem Lacrosse was the brainchild of a special education math teacher, Simon Cataldo, who struggled as an educator in his first year. Desperate to connect, Cataldo introduced the historically white and elite sport of lacrosse to “engage his most academically and behaviorally challenged students.”

And it worked. Now in its eighth year, Harlem Lacrosse operates 11 programs in New York, Baltimore and Boston serving over 450 boys and girls—nearly one-third of whom are in Special Education.

The program says it actively recruits special education students and students identified by school administrators as most vulnerable to academic decline and school dropout. More than 90 percent identify as Black, Hispanic or multi-racial; 45 percent speak a language other than English at home and 96 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Since 2011, Harlem Lacrosse students have maintained a 100 percent on-time middle school graduation rate, and have earned over $15 million scholarship offers to private schools and colleges. But most uniquely, the program is split about 50/50 between boys and girls.

Recently, The Players Tribune followed the all-girls team from P.S. 149, the Sojourner Truth Tigers, for the entire 2015-2016 season. We hear from the pre-teens on why lacrosse is important to them:

“When I first saw lacrosse, I thought it was only for boys, but it looked pretty cool.” — Karmen, 12

“If I wasn’t playing lacrosse … I’d be bored out of my mind or causing trouble.” — Shannen, 12

“Lacrosse helped me gain confidence. I go places I’ve never been before. I seen the White house, I didn’t see Obama, though. That’d be a dream come true.” — Kiera, 12

The program says it has plans to expand to Philadelphia in 2017.

See the Sojourner Truth Tigers’ over the last year and read their words here.

SOURCE: The Players Tribune, Twitter, YouTube | PHOTO: Getty


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