Wiedmer: FCA has lacrosse team entire city can cheer

Wiedmer: FCA has lacrosse team entire city can cheer

May 2nd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The idea was first hatched in late November over a platter of Champy's fried chicken, which would instantly improve any concept.

Powell Grisham, a pastor at Rock Point Community Church and an avid lacrosse enthusiast, wanted to know if the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Zach Ferrell would be interested in starting a lacrosse team equally comprised of Chattanooga Christian School middle schoolers and Ferrell's Urban Ministry youth of the same age.

"I don't know anything about lacrosse," said Ferrell, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball player who grew up in Nashville.

"Yes, but you do know your young men," replied Grisham, who ran track and cross country during his youth in McMinn County. "It won't interfere with football or basketball. It might be fun."

Said Ferrell, the chicken surely warming his soul: "Let's try it."

It wasn't that simple, of course. There's a reason why most public schools don't field lacrosse teams. Including equipment, uniforms and league fees, it can cost more than $400 a player. And it's not like you can expect thousands of fans to cough up five dollars or more for tickets. It's a non-revenue sport.

So this ebony and ivory experiment was guaranteed to end up in the red.

But Ferrell also knew that his organization has supported FCA Lacrosse for more than two decades in the mid-Atlantic states, using the sport first played by American Indians as a way to advance its spiritual message.

The two men soon approached the McKenzie Foundation with a request for a grant to cover the cost of equipping Ferrell's urban youth. The foundation wrote a check for $7,000.

By February, Ferrell's kids had their lacrosse sticks. By March, 14 middle schoolers -- one of Ferrell's students has since dropped out -- held their first practice.

"They actually watched the Xbox version of lacrosse to help learn the game," Ferrell said. "I'd said in the beginning that it had movement like basketball and physicality like football but didn't conflict with either one [on the calendar]. The more they watched, the more they began to understand that."

Wednesday evening, in their ninth outing of the season, the FCA team defeated Baylor's junior school B-teamers, 6-2, for their sixth win. Their schedule concludes Friday night at Loftis Middle.

"It's fun, you get to run," said 13-year-old Kieron Brooks, a student at Orchard Knob Middle. "You have to get the ball down the field fast. I love the scoring."

Said 14-year-old Elijah Young, a Hunter School eighth-grader who likely will go to Ooltewah High School this fall: "I'm a defender, but I could score if they'd let me. It's just a fun game."

Added Stanton Grisham, a CCS student and the coach's son: "This just shows that anyone can play lacrosse if they'll try. It also shows that we can hang with the best schools in our area."

His B-teamers having now lost twice to FCA, Baylor coach Rick Ector would wholeheartedly agree.

"They've got a lot of good athletes, they work hard and they know the fundamentals," he said. "It's really nice to see this kind of program succeed."

McCallie's Troy Kemp has been the most recognizable face of lacrosse in the Chattanooga area for more than 20 years. He encouraged 2010 Blue Tornado star Trevel Talley to work with the FCA team and Grisham is quick to point out that "we wouldn't be where we are without him."

Yet learning to play lacrosse wasn't what most intrigued Kemp as Ferrell encouraged A'reeyon Lane, Jalon Aaron, Tracy Hayes, Darren Kinamore, Travon Crutcher, Young and Brooks to join CCS's Matthew and Justin Nease, Bobby Vannoy, Nick Recasens, Wilson Sorenson, Whitaker Grisham and his brother Stanton for the sports and social experiment of the year.

"One problem we've had in moving lacrosse from a private school sport to the public schools is that a lot of kids from the inner city watch the games and say, 'I don't see anybody playing this sport who looks like me,'" Kemp said.

"That's one thing that's made this FCA team so outstanding. Kids from Orchard Knob or Dalewood or East Lake can watch this team and know that everybody can play this sport."

Historians will note that the greatest lacrosse player of all-time also is arguably the greatest running back ever -- Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who played both lacrosse and football at Syracuse.

But for Grisham and Ferrell it hasn't so much been about finding the next Jim Brown as it is about finding common ground.

"We're all loyal to our schools, to our communities," Grisham said. "But this team crossed that line. Whether these kids came from public schools or private schools, they all became friends. It's been awesome to see."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com