Philadelphia’s Eyekonz lacrosse team changes the look of lacrosse on the world stage

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) – As they ran up and down the field at Mander Playground, a group of girls from all over Philadelphia knew they were up for some tough competition.

Samiah Hayes, 14, said: “It’s not a delicate sport.

Although the basketball court is tough, she knows a place that’s even tougher.

“I’m from West Philly,” she said. “In my neighborhood, it’s not exactly safe.”

That’s why she’s seeking refuge at the Mander Playground in the Strawberry Mansion part of the city, where trainer Jazmine A. Smith hones skills for her Eyekonz lacrosse team.

“To see these girls,” said Smith, CEO and founder of Eyekonz Sports League & Field Hockey, the nation’s only African-American field hockey and baseball league. excel in this sport.

But it wasn’t an easy sell for all players when Smith started the program in 2002 and revamped it in 2013 to focus on getting African-American girls into the sport. .

“When I first started, I had never heard of the sport,” Hayes admitted with a laugh.

“I’ve heard of basketball, football, all the casual sports. I’ve never heard of Lacrosse,” said 13-year-old Azeezah Jones, who now enjoys playing with Eyekonz.

Smith understood her hesitation as it took her a while to get used to the sport when she started playing as a young adult.

“I’ve been playing for years,” she said.

In the end, she said she fell in love with the sport. What she doesn’t love is the lack of variety.

“I would be the only African-American there,” she recalls for the most part of her games.

That kind of scenario won’t play out while Eyekonz is on the field.

“Sometimes we walk on the pitch, you can see some people, they are shocked,” Hayes said of the other teams and the fans who watched them approach the pitch.

The team has also grown quite well after in part due to the ESPN and Nike features on the team.

The players knew that an all-black team was a rare sight, especially where they were going.

Hayes laughed and said: “The whole team will participate in the world volleyball tournament.

“We’re going to be playing against teams from Canada, England, Japan, Jamaica,” Smith said, just naming a handful of countries that will be at the Women’s World Lacrosse Championship in Maryland. Although there are other teams from Pennsylvania, Eyekonz will be the only team from Philadelphia.

But it’s not really all about lacrosse, it’s really about capturing a better life.

“We really cultivate narcissism and sisterhood,” says Smith.

The program is for children aged 5-19 years.

“It made me more confident,” says Jones.

“We have a motto: we don’t just teach them the game, we prepare them for life,” says Smith.

It was a life outside of the violence in Philadelphia, which is why boys started flocking to the yard. One person rides a bicycle for about 40 minutes to reach the yard.

Smith said: “(The boys) said it was a safe zone. “So we created the show for boys.”

Eyekonz Sports League is now helping both men and women excel on the field as they seek a better future.

“They can do it,” Smith said.

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