Flame Still Burns for Lacrosse in Cleveland After USA Lacrosse Initiative

PHOTO BY BRIAN HART

Kent Hollier in 2022 holding the November 2017 cover of USA Lacrosse Magazine, on which he was featured.


This article appears in the December edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

Kent Collier wielded a mini-STX stick equipped with a bright red head as he performed a series of introductory drills. He dug his shoes into the synthetic green turf that protruded from a patch of dirt facing train tracks.

Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson and then-USA Lacrosse president and CEO Steve Stenersen had just unveiled the new field at Urban Community School in Ohio City, the blossoming neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side.

A second-grader at the time, Collier was one of 40 students who participated in a clinic that included players from the Cleveland State men’s lacrosse and Baldwin Wallace women’s lacrosse teams.

“When I first picked up a stick, I was learning how to catch and pass the ball. It was difficult at first, but I got the hang of it,” he said. “Near the end of the clinic, there was a really cool coach. He walked up to me and showed me a trick where you spun it with one hand. I thought it was so cool and it stuck with me.”

Urban Community School became the epicenter of the Lacrosse Communities Project, a 2017 USA Lacrosse initiative to establish the sport in a sustainable way in racially, ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods. USA Lacrosse and its North Coast Chapter invested $300,000 in the Cleveland startup. With the help of Near West Recreation and then-Ohio City Incorporated manager Matt Burke, lacrosse has become a destination sport in Ohio’s second-largest city.

“The field opening and the clinic that took place and all the coaches and players from the community that came out, that was truly the spark that caught the wildfire of lacrosse in Ohio City,” said Burke, now a regional manager for the Midwest at USA Lacrosse. “There’s always been a sense of community, but now there’s a different, stronger sense around Cleveland.”

Collier is a testament to the potential for lacrosse in Cleveland. He appeared on the cover of the November 2017 edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine, wielding his new stick while nestled inside a sign that said “Cleveland,” as part of a story aptly titled “Believeland.”







Now a seventh-grader at Urban Community School, Collier is the starting goalie for the middle school team. “The clinic in 2017 just seemed to refresh him,” said Tamika Collier, his mother. “It made an impression on him. He’s been headstrong on doing lacrosse ever since.”

In the weeks following the clinic, and Collier’s appearance on the cover of the magazine, he was the talk of his peer group. All he could think about was this new and exciting sport. He attended clinics every Thursday. He scoured YouTube for highlights of the top pros.

“When they were passing the ball and scoring, it looked so fast,” he said. “It makes adrenaline rush out of your body. It makes you want to do it, too. I decided I want to dedicate my life to this. The more I watched lacrosse, the more excited I got.’”

Urban Community School launched its first middle school team in 2019. Burke coaches the team. He didn’t need to look far to find Collier last season. With no goalies on the roster, Burke asked for volunteers. Collier raised his hand first.

“He was a phenomenal asset to the team,” Burke said. “He made tons of saves and kept us in a lot of very close games. He took it upon himself to excel at it. He was always working and asking questions, which is huge for middle school-aged kids.”

Collier intends to play lacrosse in high school. There have been a few college lacrosse players from Cleveland, but more are coming. Collier hopes to help lead the influx. Cleveland State has remained active in the community. And even though Collier is not as familiar with college lacrosse — he watches plenty of the Premier Lacrosse League — he dreams of playing at the next level.

“Cleveland’s always a home for me,” he said. “Representing Cleveland would show the world that this city is not just some other place. Cleveland has talent that is unique. This city has lots of life-changing stories and people who shape the world in some way.”

“Cleveland has come a long way,” Tamika Collier said. “It means a lot for us to be moving in this direction and for USA Lacrosse to invest in these kids who probably wouldn’t have another opportunity to see and be involved in the sport.”

GIVING TUESDAY

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