Marta Randall

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Bringing Lacrosse to Baltimore’s Toughest Neighborhoods

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A couple of years ago, Lacrosse Magazine ran a piece featuring two arguments on the exclusivity of lacrosse — one swearing it is, the other refuting the point.  The article surprised me.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the sport is seen as, well, controversially exclusive.  Further reflection led me to face facts that my lack of awareness was a result of my having been lucky enough to be included in the first place — I’ve played lacrosse since I was seven. 

Anyone active in the sport will tell you that lacrosse has come a long way in the last decade, and that’s true.  Instead of playing one another over and over again, club teams from Baltimore, New York, and Boston now play teams from Georgia, New Hampshire, California, and Texas. While broadening the geographical horizon is a great start, it doesn’t necessarily bridge the racial and economic gap that exists in lacrosse.  The cost of putting one safely equipped young man on a lacrosse field is around $400 per season. The cost for women is a little less, between $200 and $300.  That’s several thousand dollars, just to field a team.  Not everyone can handle that expense for a sport, especially when that money will be spent twice or three times over to replace equipment. 

It doesn’t seem fair for kids to be kept from a sport because they can’t afford it.  A lot of people, when presented with that opinion, would probably agree, but might also say that it’s not their responsibility to pay for other kids to play lacrosse in addition to their own, and that’s not unreasonable.  Important to note: There’s a lot of money being donated in the world of lacrosse — people give thousands of dollars to teams that don’t need it.  I would venture to guess that most of the time this is not because they are averse to helping people who actually need help, but rather that they don’t know how they can do that.
   
Baltimore features some of the best quality lacrosse in the country, and has recently produced some of the best intentioned as well.  Baltimorean and former All American Ryan Boyle founded the Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League in 2007 with the help of Rob Lindsey and David Skeen.  All three were raised on Baltimore lacrosse and wanted to find a way to give poor kids the same opportunities that allowed them to thrive.  When they found no such thing, they created their own.  And while much of the program focuses on teaching skills, the larger goal has always been nobler.  The program caters to kids in rough neighborhoods, those most at risk of falling in with a bad crowd. 

Interestingly, another program bridging the lacrosse gap in Baltimore pairs inner city youth and Baltimore’s finest. In the Parks and People Foundation’s Baltimore Middle School Lacrosse League, under the direction of police commissioner Fred Bealefeld, several officers from the Baltimore Police Department serve as volunteer coaches, coaching kids from some of the worst areas in the city.  And despite the unfavorable reputation the police may have in some of those neighborhoods, discipline is rarely an issue.  On the field, officers are coaches; kids are just kids, no matter their background. 

BMSLL volunteer coach A.C. George, who played at North Carolina and coached at Walbrook Middle School, says the pairing works–they are helping keep kids off the street. 

“These kids are at an age that gangs target for recruiting, and this gives them a much better option,” George says.

The program is growing by leaps and bounds.  At NCAA men’s finals in Baltimore this spring, all teams in the new league participated in NCAA-sponsored clinics.  This summer the 19 players travelled to New Hampshire for a five-day lacrosse camp.  George, a retired McCormick Spice executive, fielded 12 teams this spring and would like to grow to 16 to 18 teams in 2012.
   
Ideally, these programs help kids get involved with lacrosse when they’re 11 or 12 — next, they play for their high school team, then they get to go on and play in college.  After just one season, George sent Jamar Peete to play at Limestone College in South Carolina: the first of what promises to be a long string of successes.

Charm City Lacrosse, a program out of Baltimore city, takes the outreach one step further with a program for six- to 10-year-olds. Kids learn skills, training, league play and receive mentoring.  According to the website, the program also aims to open doors to scholarship opportunities at private schools.

Seems like the meaning of these programs and the kids they help should be enough to make any lacrosse fan feel that fighting for the sport to be more inclusive is worth their time, maybe even their money.  Many who watch the sport have complained repeatedly that professional lacrosse doesn’t get enough coverage, or funding, or publicity, and it certainly doesn’t get nearly the amount of sports like baseball, soccer, football, or basketball.  Then again, it doesn’t cater remotely to the same number of people.  For as long as lacrosse remains exclusive, it will also remain largely un-televised.  Certainly it’s understandable from a financial standpoint–stations don’t want to show something that only a few thousand people are going to watch when they can broadcast to millions–but it makes sense socially as well.  People don’t want to watch a sport they never had a chance to play and thus know nothing about.  Making the sport inclusive is win-win for everyone, and it starts right here.

Under Armour To Use Rookies for Endorsements

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It’s difficult to believe, with its two million dollar Superbowl commercials and products ranging from women’s underwear to hunting gear to sunglasses, that Under Armour was once just a guy with an idea looking for retail space. In the years since it was founded, the company has grown from a small, home run organization to a hugely successful corporation partnered with some of the top names in sports. But the company couldn’t always rely on the brand-name power it has today to seal those deals. In those early days, it turned to rookies–young athletes with star potential, but without the seven or eight figure salaries of some of the big names in their respective sports.  

More than ten years ago, Under Armour signed an endorsement contract with the Dallas Cowboys’ Eric Ogbogu, and although he wasn’t always a standout on the field, he made famous the now proverbial slogan, “We must protect this house.”  The method worked then, and it works now. While many star athletes would probably gladly endorse such a popular brand, the Baltimore-based company has stuck to the original formula, and recently joined forces with a small group of young NBA players, including rookie sensation Kemba Walker, to promote its new basketball line.

Isn’t this avant-garde advertising approach a bit risky? Why does such a lucrative company remain quirky with marketing? According to the company, endorsement for them has always been more about building brand integrity than it is about the money. That’s easy to say when you’re a multimillion-dollar corporation, but the company actually has a team that follows the careers of college athletes and handpicks them after graduation, so their mission seems legitimate. Now I just have to figure out how I can get on their radar.

Lax Movie "Crooked Arrows" Starts Filming Aug. 1

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Cinema’s latest underdog movie is sure to lure many lacrosse-crazed Baltimoreans.  “Crooked Arrows,” which starts filming August 1 in the Boston area, tells the story of Joe Logan (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns), a young Native American trying to modernize his reservation while winning his father’s approval.  The perfect way to do both, it turns out, is coaching the reservation’s lacrosse team.  Joe leads the boys to success and brotherhood, culminating in a final showdown against rivals at a private school, where they compete for the state title. 

In early daysproducers faced the perplexing problem of finding actors who could play both lacrosse and convincing roles.  This summer, open auditions for “Crooked Arrows” were held in Hempstead, NY, Norwalk, CT, Summit, NJ, and of course, Baltimore. At callbacks in Syracuse and Boston, two teams were selected and former Hopkins lacrosse star Jameson Koesterer and Onondaga native Neal Powless started coaching the ersatz teams this week.

The championship game will be filmed August 13, so lacrosse fanatics interested in roles as extras should consider a trip to Boston next month.  Producers promise the appearance of lacrosse “celebrities” (perhaps Ken Clausen? or Connor “Con Bro Chill” Martin?) and other goodies at the end game finale. With sponsors like US Lacrosse, Inside Lacrosse, Reebok and assorted beverage, automotive and apparel partnerships (read product placement), you can bet the freebies will be worth the trip.

The premise of the movie begs a few questions about the state of lacrosse today.  The sport originated with Native Americans, but over the decades has practically become a symbol of elitism and exclusivity.  “Crooked Arrows” could critically examine this issue of origin versus elaboration.  On the cultivated green grass and million-dollar turfs of East Coast prep schools, lacrosse has become a cultural juggernaut, an undeniable force whose influence has spread far beyond the boundaries of the field to play a role in everything from clothing to college choice. Despite all that it has become, lacrosse’s creation came hundreds of years ago on the vast plains of an untouched America. So to whom does the sport really belong?  Maybe “Crooked Arrows” will settle the question once and for all. 

Artscape Turns 30!

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This weekend, Artscape turns 30–the free festival came to life on a cool, rainy day in the summer of 1982. While this weekend probably won’t offer the same reprieve from the heat, it does guarantee the same culture and charm the festival has embodied from the start. Artscape is the largest annual free arts festival in the United States, and this year 173 exhibitors from all over the country share their work with over 350,000 expected visitors, for a can’t-beat price of zero per person. The festival takes place over three days, spread over 12 city blocks and approximately four million square feet of display space. You can check out exhibitions in fashion, film, fine arts, games, performing arts, and car art, as well as several musical performances. The lineup this year includes, among others, Fantasia (no kidding), Matisyahu, and G. Love.

This year’s Artscape will pay tribute to the festival’s origins with a special exhibit called “1982 on the Charles Street Bridge,” which will feature work by diverse artists, all inspired by the 1980s. If the neon-bright 80s aren’t your scene, other attractions abound, dance troupes, interactive storytelling, art workshops, and a fantastic sculpture garden called the Rabbit Hole. Artscape has also become more kid-friendly in recent years, and parents no longer have to pay for children’s activities: They’re now free, just like everything else. Kids can enjoy puppets, origami, arts and crafts projects, and even a (very) amateur Grand Prix race. For those so inclined, there is an exhibit called Gamescape, which features locally produced video games, as well as art inspired by games.

Artscape truly has something for everyone, so if you’re not busy this weekend, or you’re like me and need something to distract you from obsessing over the Harry Potter finale, get your art on. But don’t forget the sunscreen and the crowd-friendly attitude.

GiveCorps: For-Profit With a Heart

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With today’s launch of GiveCorps, local philanthropy–like virtually every other aspect of life–finds its place on the internet.  GiveCorps is a new kind of business: it helps donors find local causes they really care about and makes it easy to donate online. Or as co-founder Beth Falcone, a former VP at Maryland National Bank, put it, it’s a “for-profit with a heart.” She and co-founder Jamie McDonald, a former managing director at Alex. Brown & Sons, recognized that small, local projects often fail to receive the support they need from a community, not because people aren’t willing to help, but because they don’t realize they can.  

“If causes can become authentic institutions of these Networked Neighborhoods,” McDonald wrote in an online post describing the site, “they will find a new group of supporters who will celebrate their successes and tackle their challenges.”  GiveCorps aims to make Baltimore one such “Networked Neighborhood.”

The process is relatively simple. An organization contacts GiveCorps with a cause and decides whether the project will be a “big give” feature project or a searchable listed project. GiveCorps charges a campaign development fee of about 1,000 dollars for feature projects and an additional twenty-nine dollars per month for ongoing listings. (Currently there is no development fee until GiveCorps reaches 10,000 subscribers.) The website gives feature projects space on the homepage and markets them through email outreach to other GiveCorps donors.  There is no development fee for listed projects, although the site charges 79 dollars per month for listing.  The projects do not have homepage space, but they do receive a cause page, as well as separate project pages, and are marketed via GiveCorps social media.  

Already, 27 Baltimore non-profits have signed with GiveCorps, among them Living Classrooms, WYPR, and Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.   The site will use three main methods of promotion. Each organization featured in a “big give” project will email its subscribers about its partnership with GiveCorps–all have the option of including a GiveCorps widget on their site.  Merchants on the GiveCorps site will email subscribers and both non-profits and merchants are encouraged to share their association to the site through Facebook and Twitter.  Finally, beginning this week, MissionTix will promote GiveCorps on its website and through e-newsletters.  The site’s logo will appear on the back of tickets through the fall.

 

And then people donate.  The suggested donation is 25 dollars, though donors can give any amount over 10 dollars.  Ninety percent of each donation goes directly to the cause, three percent covers transaction fees, and the remaining seven percent goes to GiveCorps.  The site hopes to attract about 550 donors per day, a goal that if met would mean five million dollars to charity in the first year.  GiveCorps launches in Baltimore this month and Philadelphia in the fall, but hopes to be in 12 cities around the country by next year.

This may seem ambitious, but GiveCorps feels confident that the incentive to donate is there. First, they target a demographic of younger adults who care about helping out in their community but don’t always know how.  These digital natives are comfortable conducting everyday affairs online.  Second, GiveCorps gives back.  Each week, the site offers multiple local deals, like 50 dollars off a 100 dollar purchase at Nelson Coleman Jewelers or admission to all four historic ships at the Inner Harbor for the price of one.  When a person makes a donation, he or she chooses up to five weekly deals as a reward. 

Not only are people rewarded for their contribution, but the site can track exactly how donations are used.  Instead of writing a check and mailing it off to some giant, amorphous organization, donors see how each dollar benefits each cause.  This type of interest-based charity also affords GiveCorps an opportunity to collect valuable data that could contribute to more productive philanthropy in the future.  Most importantly, GiveCorps reestablishes the sense of giving that has faded in the past few decades.  It is a new way to give and get back. 

Contest:  To celebrate the site’s launch this month, GiveCorps is holding a weekly contest to help build a subscriber base.  Subscribers simply have to “Like” GiveCorps on Facebook or Tweet a pre-composed message then enter their email address for a chance to win.  One winner will be selected every Tuesday and Friday through July 4, and each winner will receive a gift of 100 dollars to a charity of choice, as well as a dinner for two at Woodberry Kitchen, also valued at 100 dollars.  

Another Tragic Shooting

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On Saturday morning, a Cherry Hill resident shot and killed his 15-year-old friend while playing with a gun in his home. There are few confirmed details. Police will not say how many times the victim was shot, who owns the gun, or who else was present at the time of the shooting, but it was ruled accidental. The shooter, who is 12, will not be charged with murder.

How did this happen? I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this story with different kids in different towns, and yet somehow people still have not learned. The house in which the shooting occurred was home to 22 guns and a child, a frightening ratio. I won’t argue that people can’t own guns or keep them in their homes, but is it unreasonable to assume that a child who is constantly exposed to so many firearms would be informed about the dangers surrounding them? Because the shooting was so quickly ruled an accident, and because it’s unlikely that the kids involved were uninformed about how a gun works, it seems lack of communication may be to blame as much as the bullet. 

While the death was accidental, the fact remains that the young shooter pointed a gun at his friend and pulled the trigger. Those were not accidental actions, so some information was missing. Did he not know the gun was real? Did he not know it was loaded? Though owning 22 guns while raising a child seems like a bad idea, the law does permit it. If adults choose to raise children in a home full of weapons they have an increased responsibility to ensure those children are made aware of every potential risk and kept safe. The death of the young victim is tragic and made more so by how easily the tragedy could have been prevented. 

 

The History of the Sno(w)ball

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The snowball (it is most often spelled with w), by its Baltimore definition, is cheap, easy to make, refreshing, delicious, and even hydrating. And yet for whatever reason, it is virtually nonexistent in all but a few select cities across the United States,one of which, of course, is Baltimore.

Although today this signature treat comes in a variety of artificial, neon flavors, its origins are much more natural.  In ancient Rome and Japan, rulers and wealthy citizens dispatched servants to the mountains to collect snow, which they then flavored with fruit or honey.  Many years later, the Japanese brought this idea with them to Hawaii.  The American Industrial Revolution made ice commercially available for the first time in history.  Cooler, northeastern states would ship enormous blocks of ice to places like Florida and Louisiana.  The ice route passed right through Baltimore, where children would ask for shavings of ice – shaved, not crushed.  As this became customary, mothers began to prepare syrups to flavor the shaved ice.  Egg custard, a simple combination of eggs, vanilla, and sugar, and one of the easiest flavors to make, is still a favorite in Baltimore today.

Twenty years after the snoball made its debut in Baltimore, it was so popular that theaters sold it to patrons during the sweltering summer months.  Because theatergoers were generally the wealthier citizens, snoballs developed a reputation as an upper-class commodity, just as they had in ancient times.  Half a century later, the country fell into depression and snoballs became a national phenomenon.  They were easier, and more importantly cheaper than ice cream, and became fondly known as “Penny Sundaes.”  During World War II, materials like cream and rock salt were too precious to be used for ice cream, and once again snoballs were there to fill the void.  But once the war ended and people were no longer driven to frugality by depression, the snoball’s popularity slowly diminished.  These days one can still get a true snoball – shaved, not crushed – in Baltimore and Hawaii, as well as New Orleans, Philadelphia, and the Jersey Shore.

A “snoball” is not to be confused with a “snowball” or a “snocone.”  Though in its youth, the modern day snoball was likely referred to as a “snowball,” these days, in a society that uses phonetic spelling as an excuse for poor spelling, we have dropped the offending “w.”  A snowball is an icy lump thrown at others during the winter.  A snocone, apparently, is not a real thing.  Those who use the term are hopelessly out of it.

The old favorite flavors are still around – egg custard, root beer, skylite – but in recent summers new flavors have joined the menus at local snoball stands.  I recently visited the stand nearest to my house and was surprised by and then skeptical about the wide variety of choices.  For example, if I were so inclined, I could get an ice cream flavored snoball.  I don’t know what generic ‘ice cream’ tastes like, since in my experience ice cream comes in different flavors as well, and I also don’t know why I wouldn’t just buy ice cream, instead of ice cream flavored ice, but I guess some people enjoy it.  If I were completely insane, I could order a Shrek flavored snoball.  I was so mystified by this that I asked the kid behind the counter about it and was informed that it was a combination of chocolate and spearmint, because those are “swamp colors.”  Mint chocolate is also on the menu, so maybe people order the Shrek flavor after they’ve asked about it and decided that, yes, what the old mint chocolate flavor was missing a good, old fashioned swamp association.  I don’t know.  There was also a Cars flavor, which I didn’t even question.  I guess its just unleaded regular on ice.

The snoball has come a long way.  Literally all the way around the world.  It has had its ups and downs, and while it has fallen out of favor with much of the nation, Baltimore remains faithful, reopening stands summer after summer, inventing new, bizarre flavors, and packing hundreds of cups with syrup and ice – shaved, not crushed.

Lacrosse Lovers: Baltimore’s Obsession

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It’s six p.m. on Memorial Day and the city air is hot and still. After nearly two hours of watching back-and-forth goals and sweat-drenched celebrations at the NCAA Lacrosse Championship, the masses of red and orange clad fans filter out of M&T Stadium and back onto the streets of Baltimore. Two boys, no older than ten, wear Terps jerseys and grip lacrosse sticks roughly as long as they are tall. They chatter excitedly to each other, recounting each “sweet” goal and seriously deliberating which “sick” moves they should employ against their next opponent. They are sunburned, their hair plastered with sweat to their foreheads and necks, and their chosen team has just lost to its long-standing rival.  All of this is secondary to the spirit and the drama of the game. This is the relationship Baltimore has with lacrosse.

There aren’t many things for which Baltimore can claim exclusive credit — Hairspray, Poe (who really just died here), The Wire, Natty Boh…the list is short and eclectic, and perhaps that is why Baltimore remains so fiercely loyal to lacrosse. The city and surrounding area are home to powerhouses at both the high school and college level, like Gilman, Loyola, Boys’ Latin, St. Paul’s, McDonogh, Bryn Mawr, The University of Maryland, and, of course, Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays legendary history has made them standout in the pantheon of lacrosse greats. In both the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, lacrosse was a demonstration event, and in both years Hopkins beat out every other team in the playoffs to become the American representative in the games. The men’s team has appeared in every NCAA tournament since the creation of the playoffs in 1971 and has won the championship nine times.

But great teams do more than just create devoted fans, they also create educated fans. It seems frequent success makes fans less rabid, allowing them to appreciate the sport rather than just the victories. At the national championship on Monday afternoon, I sat among enthusiastic Maryland fans eager to see the title go to their home team, who despite thirty-four tournament appearances have not won the championship since 1975. But when Virginia midfielder Colin Briggs scored his fifth goal of the game with just under two minutes remaining in the final quarter, the Terps fan behind me clapped slowly and said to his companions, “Great play. He’s a great player.” And as the last few seconds ticked off the clock and UVA stormed the field in a sea of orange and white, Terps and Cavaliers fans alike rose in appreciation.

Baltimore loves lacrosse because it belongs to us, and we’re good at it. It’s a devotion and an understanding that extends beyond the sport itself to an attitude, a look, and for some people essentially a way of life. It’s that part of it that is difficult to explain – my older sister doesn’t play lacrosse and cannot understand how my younger sister and I can pick other lacrosse players out of a group of people with such frightening accuracy, and we can’t really either. During my first year of collegiate play in Massachusetts, I realized that it’s not just a lacrosse culture that I understand, but a Baltimore lacrosse culture. In recent years lacrosse has enjoyed significantly increased popularity all over the nation and in some other countries as well. But no matter where it is played, lacrosse belongs to Baltimore, the city that built it, that knows it, and that loves it no matter who wins.

Marta Randall is a Baltimore Fishbowl summer intern. She graduated from Hereford High and plays lacrosse for a New England liberal arts college.

 

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