McElroy, Andrew McBride (Calgary) and Chreighton Reid (Colorado) were among the NLL players in Thunder Bay last week.(Photo: NLL Photos)
Chris McElroy did not know what to expect Monday morning as he walked into the Justice Ronald Lester Youth Centre in Thunder Bay. The professional lacrosse player from the Washington Stealth was at the youth detention center as part of Right To Play’s latest partnership.
Right To Play introduced The Lacrosse For Development program to the youth offenders in conjunction with Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The program was a first in the province, and served as an extension of the agreement between Right To Play, the Professional Lacrosse Players Association (PLPA) and the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Andrew McBride (Calgary), Creighton Reid (Colorado) and McElroy headlined the NLL players at the week-long event (September 10-14), which was made possible through a $13,000 grant from Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
“The focus of this program was to build leadership skills, teach importance of teamwork and have kids gain confidence to make the right decisions in the future,” said McElroy. “It was a valuable week and important for the youth and the players.”
The latest event, however, was in a much different environment, as the players and staff taught the 13 young men from First Nations communities at the Centre. It was an experience that the professional lacrosse player said was both humbling and inspirational. He admitted the players had the easy job teaching the game they love, and left with an appreciation for the staff at the Centre.
“I was impressed that everyone at the facility truly cared about the kids, and wanted to steer them in the right direction. It’s nice to see how they all took a personal interest in the kids and make a positive change in their lives,” said McElroy. “It was a rewarding experience and great to give back to a youth group in need of programming. It is definitely something I will carry with me in the future as a motivation to continue to give back as a player.”
McElroy, 30, recently re-signed with the Washington Stealth and enters his ninth season in the National Lacrosse League. He has become a major part of his team’s community efforts, serving as the program instructor for Sticks-2-Schools, the non-profit partner of the Stealth. He’s also done work with Northwest Harvest, the Stealth Lacrosse Academy and is one of the NLL’s representatives for Right To Play.
In February, the Right To Play, the NLL and the PLPA announced a partnership to reintroduce the Creator’s Game to four Ontario reservations. Right To Play’s Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program supported the Lacrosse For Development program. The camps were the vessel used to inspire and motivate First Nation children and youth to connect to the strong culture and tradition of lacrosse.
“It was a great step for the league and the players association that we have a charity of our own,” said McElroy. “By doing programs like this, and going into a community, it gets back to the origins of the game. It was played to bring communities together and used as a medicine game, and played with a healthy body and healthy mind. I think within the program it encompasses a lot of those values.”
The first summer camp was on July 6th at the Oneida Nation of the Thames and the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. The lacrosse camps also visited Whitefish River First Nation near Sudbury, Bimose Tribal Council in Kenora, Ontario; and Christian Island in Beausoleil First Nation.
“The next focus must be the league and players association and Right To Play to start looking on how we can continue to have this program be implemented in the future,” said McElroy. “The next step is looking at a league-wide fundraiser where everyone can continue to give toward this initiative. We want this to be sustainable.”
Arrow Express Sports and Team 22, which is the Authorized Licensee of Under Armour®, are the majority sponsors of the Lacrosse For Development Program. Owned by Curt Styres, Knighthawks VP of Lacrosse Paul Gait, and Knighthawks President Lewis Staats, Team 22 provided free sticks and gloves to hundreds of kids at the summer camps, which reached over 700 community members in 2012.
“I am very pleased with how things went this year. We are looking to expand the sport within the Native Community,” said Gait, who serves as the president of Team 22. “We are reaching out to the other Native communities to help introduce and grow the sport. Curt’s vision is to bring lacrosse back to the Native people.”
For more information, visit the Right To Play website at www.righttoplay.ca.