Cristian Roman was having trouble getting motivated to do his homework—until he got excited about a new sport he had never seen before.
Cristian, who’s in the 8th grade, now counts himself among the burgeoning number of New Haven public school students going up against wealthier, suburban schools as part of the lacrosse team at Amistad Academy Middle School.
The public charter school, comprised mostly of low-income black and Hispanic students, just finished the fifth season for boys and third season for girls in a sport traditionally dominated by white suburban kids.
Cristian joined the team last year as a 7th grader.
“I didn’t even know what lacrosse was before I started,” he recalled in a break between plays on the field behind the revamped school at 130 Edgewood Ave.
At Amistad, the girls and boys teams are focusing on character-building and skill-building rather than winning games, according to coach John Krause. In order to participate in activities like lacrosse at the end of the school day, kids have to be up to speed with their homework.
“Before lacrosse, I used to be in homework intervention every day,” Cristian recalled. That meant he spent the last hour of school, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., doing homework while his friends were playing outside.
Then he heard about the lacrosse team, “the closest thing to football” that the school offered. He discovered he liked it. “Ever since it started getting fun,” he recalled, he hustled to get his work done and get on the field.
“It inspired me to do my homework,” Cristian said. “I just decided to step it up.”
Cristian made a smashing debut last year, breaking a tied game with a winning goal against Bridgeport. Now he plays attack and mid-field. He’s one of about 30 people on the boys’ team, Coach Krause said.
Krause, a math teacher who played Division III lacrosse in Maryland, started Amistad’s program five years ago.
“When we started off,” Krause recalled, “all we had were girls’ sticks.” Because the girls’ sport involves less physical combat, the sticks have shallower baskets and are harder to catch with. The boys, in grades 5 to 8, spent a year building skills before competing with other teams.
Krause landed a grant from U.S. Lacrosse to outfit the boys with proper pads, helmets and sticks. Because the sport is expensive and uncommon in the inner city, his students were learning the sport for the first time, Krause said.
In the past three years, his team has faced off against suburban rivals like Milford, Amity, North Haven and Madison.
“We’re not necessarily going to beat players with [better] skills,” Krause said, “but we’re going to play with honor.”
The boys scrimmaged Thursday, the final day of their season, as the girls prepared for one last “jamboree” of games Sunday in Cheshire.
The girls team, a tough squad with lots of speed, has been having better luck on the scoreboard, Krause said.
The team finished the season in Cheshire Sunday with four wins, according to Lauren Horne, a science teacher who coaches the girls’ team.
The wins came thanks to “scoring machines” like Cheyenne Ravenell (pictured going for the goal against defender Alana Morrison).
Alana, who’s in 8th grade, is one of those “machines,” too. Coach Krause recruited her for the lacrosse team last year, when she was playing field hockey.
“I really like it—everyone’s nice,” she said.
Alana proceeded to tear down the field and pop the yellow ball in the goal.
A few minutes later, Coach Horne pulled Alana aside to give her some advice.
Take a breather and take some time to line up your passes, Horne told her. You’ve got lots of speed, she told her—you’ve got time to spare.
Horne said over the past three years, her team of 5th to 8th graders has made a lot of progress.
“They’ve developed this toughness,” she said. “They’re a tough, tough group on the field.”
They’re also known, as Alana pointed out, for their compassion. When a competitor fell to the ground, one first-time player stopped to help her, without caring what happened to the ball, Horne recalled. Two girls who couldn’t play Thursday sat near the goal and cheered.
“We’re very positive with each other,” Horne said. “It’s really awesome to see.”