A sport first played by Native Americans hundreds of years ago is now being offered at Ferris School for Boys, with hopes the game will have a positive impact on the troubled young men at the Wilmington institution.
Lacrosse is a new sport at Ferris, thanks to an enormous community-wide effort by the Delaware chapter of US Lacrosse, state officials and local volunteers, coaches, and other supporters. This is the first spring sport offered at Ferris, and school leaders and coaches say the program is already a great success, benefiting both the boys and faculty.
And it turns out that the lead lacrosse coach happens to be a woman.
Kalyn McDonough played college lacrosse at University of Delaware and was a volunteer assistant at Drexel. But this is her first time coaching boys. “I am so fortunate. This experience hands-down has been the most rewarding for me. It’s been a complete blessing. We started running some clinics, and some of the boys took to the sport very quickly. In fact, they’ve been asking me to come back more often. It’s been amazing,” she said.
McDonough’s father Jack Mcdonough is the Deputy Director of the Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, which runs the Ferris School for Boys. It looks like Dad deputized just the right person for the job.
“Kalyn is the matriarch of this program,” said Head Lacrosse Coach Emmanuel Carlis, who is immensely impressed with McDonough’s leadership abilities. “She’s been out almost every day working with these kids – since day one. We all follow her lead, including the other coaches and the players,” he said.
Carlin said it’s McDonough’s ability to make the kids believe in themselves and to tap into their talent that’s been the most transformational. “I am very surprised that the kids took to Kalyn and all of the volunteers so quickly. Usually the kids try to test you a little bit. But with lacrosse, the kids took to all of the coaches right away, which was shocking. It’s been a great experience,” he said.
McDonough, who has a full time job as a project research coordinator at the University of Delaware, is pleased the boys are responding so well to the program. “These players are very special. I think being in a juvenile facility, there’s a judgement around that. This operates because these kids are willing to try something new,” she said.
Like the players themselves, Coach Carlis has had a lacrosse stick in his hand for only about a month. But he’s enjoying learning the sport and overseeing the program. “They are picking the game up really fast. They were really ready for something like this.”
McDonough works on the lacrosse field at Ferris every afternoon Wednesday through Friday and then again on Saturdays and Sundays. But she feels strongly that the entire success of the program is due to the overwhelming support of so many members of the community – parents of current high school and college players, lacrosse organizations, and University of Delaware club lacrosse team. “The UD lacrosse players come out on Saturday mornings, and that can’t be easy for them, but that has been huge,” she said.
Coach Carlis couldn’t agree more that the volunteers have helped the program tremendously. “Every time I see volunteers come, they leave so happy, and it’s been really good for the boys to see people they don’t even know who are coming to help them.”
McDonough also is grateful for the support of Ferris Athletic Director Craig Walker and coaches Richard Booker and Walter Armstrong, who work with the kids year-round at the school. “Coach Booker and Armstrong are incredible and have great report with the kids. The kids really look up to them. The biggest part about being a good coach is to be a good role model, and they are wonderful role models.”
Wilmington Friends Boys Lacrosse Coach Lee Powers is credited with getting the entire program off the ground, helping to secure grants and other funding, and lining up volunteers . “Lee’s been awesome,” said Carlis. “He’s is the true architect of this program,” he said.
The Ferris team includes 30 boys ages 14 to 18, and all have the necessary equipment, which was either donated or purchased by the school. The school has seven JV games on the roster this season, including their scrimmage against Mt. Pleasant last month. Ferris lost 5-2, but Coach Carlis said the boys were so excited to rack up two goals in their first game. They will also play Sussex High School, Caravel, Salesianum, Brandywine, Poly Tech and Middletown.
And parents of Ferris youth enjoy the the opportunity to watch their children play the game. “Having the families involved as spectators has really helped out,” said Coach Carlis. “The kids are excited to see their moms and dads and brothers and sisters watch them play.”
Dr. Katharine Powers, a licensed clinical psychologist at Ferris, said, “One goal of bringing lacrosse to Ferris is to improve safety for both the youth we serve as well as our staff.” Powers explains that “historically, numbers of restraints are higher in the spring than other times of the year. The aim of introducing lacrosse at Ferris is to have a spring sport that will allow large-muscle exercise, that will get the residents out of the building and into the fresh air, and that will ultimately lead to lower numbers of restraints.”
Coach McDonough says the physical activity has really created an emotional lift for the boys on the team. “I’ve seen kids who never smile who are beaming on the field. It’s great to see the kids have a breakthrough in one of the skills, and that kind of makes it all worth it,” said McDonough.
And just yesterday a Delaware mother who lost her son in an automobile accident several years ago stopped by Ferris to donate some of his equipment and to talk to the boys about valuing life and cherishing every moment. She also donated stickers with the number 8 for each boy to wear on the back of their helmets in remembrance of her son, who loved lacrosse.
That kind of community support is what has made this such an exceptional experience for McDonough. “Its kind of gone beyond lacrosse and helped break barriers,” she said.
Ferris will also host a US Lacrosse/Sankofa Lacrosse Clinic on Saturday, May 6th, where pro players, pro coaches and US Lacrosse trainers will come lead the clinic on the field at Ferris.
Looking ahead to summer, there may be opportunities for counselor experiences at Ferris, and the student-led Youth Overcoming Obstacles is working to try to help find internships for some of the Ferris athletes and students.
If you would like to contribute to or become involved with the lacrosse program at Ferris, please email Kalyn McDonough at email@example.com.