By David Lasday
Imagine being able to go back in time to the beginnings of the National Basketball Association or National Football League and create a foundation of giving back to the community. This is what the Israel Premier Lacrosse League (IPLL) is doing right now. In its second season, the IPLL, a league composed of Jewish college lacrosse players from North America, foreign players from England, Germany, Turkey, Czech Republic, and Uganda, as well as native Israeli players, fields six teams: Be’er Sheva, Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Netanya, and Haifa. While like all Premier League’s the outcome on the field matters, the true winning takes place off the field.
It starts from the minute Jewish players from North America arrive at the airport for their Birthright lacrosse trip organized by Amazing Israel. Each player comes with a bag of donated second hand lacrosse equipment that they have collected from their college and community at home. EL AL’s sponsorship to the IPLL covers the extra baggage fees for the donated equipment. On arrival this equipment is dispersed to Israeli youth lacrosse players in the periphery.
This season the IPLL is a pilot Masa summer program. Thanks to Masa, players receive Hebrew lessons, travel, and a full Israel experience. The IPLL schedule includes two practices, one conditioning training, and two games each week. Outside of these activities each player is required to volunteer 20+ hours in the community helping grow the game of lacrosse. In conjunction with the local community centers, IPLL players run lacrosse camps as well as visit camps around their city holding introductory lacrosse clinics. According to Shlomi Numa, Head of Education and Community in Beer Sheva, “What a special experience for the kids. Imagine as a kid, Premier sports players coming to your camp and giving you private lessons. The kids are blown away. We have sent players to 40 camps around the city.” Commissioner of the IPLL Ted Bergman explains, “This is a win win win. The program gives players the opportunity to learn and connect to the city that they play for, while building a fanbase and the next generation of lacrosse players. At the same time this also provides Israeli youth in the cities that we work in a sports experience they will never forget.”
In addition to coaching at camps, each IPLL club has a U15 Academy team. Premier League players coach this team twice a week and take them on away games to play against other clubs. Each week a different city hosts a lacrosse festival where all the Premier and U15 teams come together for a day of games. It’s not unfamiliar to see a Premier League player dressed in his equipment coaching a U15 team before his own match. Amir Ben Simchon, Head of Sport in Kiryat Gat explains, “Lacrosse festivals build a feeling of community. It’s amazing to see the Premier League players cheer on the U15 Academy and then see the love and passion in the eyes of the youth as they cheer on the Premier Team. As a Director of Sport in a city, there is nothing better.” Ashdod U15 goalee Dennis Zasipko says, “My coaches have taught me so much. Watching them play gives me a better understanding of what they are telling me in the huddle.”
The IPLL was the first lacrosse league in the world to adopt the Sitcks For Kids program, a project that utilizes the status and influence of players to teach at risk children life skills. As part of Sticks For Kids, each IPLL club runs two lacrosse clinics each week at moadoniote – municipal after-school programs for at risk youth. The clinics focus on teamwork, listening, goal setting, and discipline. Jaffari Ibrahim Makanda, Ashkelon Premier League player from Uganda has treasured his time working with underprivileged youth: “Playing in the IPLL is a dream come true, but what’s even more valuable has been the opportunity to give back to the game off the field. I look forward to bringing back what I learned about growing the game, giving back, and building community to Kampala.”
Lacrosse will be be televised nationally in Israel for the first time, when Sport ONE carries the Israel Premier Lacrosse League Championship Game live from Wolfson Fields in Tel Aviv on Wednesday at 7:45 PM (local time). The Hebrew-language broadcast will also be streamed live via the Sport ONE website, at one.co.il.
David Lasday serves as the Director of Youth Development for the Israel Lacrosse Association. A social entrepreneur, Lasday also helps direct the growth of Global Game Changers, Sticks For Kids and Hoops For Kids. Lasday can be reached at [email protected].