By Juan Martinez
It is slightly after 2 p.m. on a warm Sunday May afternoon when a group of about 44 kids arrives for lacrosse practice at Laney College in Oakland.
Some of the kids run onto the school’s turf football field, while others scramble to grab their shoulder pads, sticks and cleats. After stretching for 15 minutes and doing jumping jacks, all of the boys gather around their coach, Kevin Kelley.
Be quick, have a sense of urgency,” Kelley tells the kids. “Get it rolling.”
Kelley talks in a firm yet friendly manner, like a guidance counselor. When making a point, or getting a player’s attention, he often uses only his hands – making quirky gestures like aircraft directors do.
When one of his players completes a difficult pass, he celebrates by doing a fist pump like Tiger Woods.
“Nice toss,” Kelley yells as the passer jogs off the field. “Good form. Nice job with the left hand.”
At the end of practice, Kelley gets together with the kids to form a giant circle where three players are chosen to lead the group’s end of practice ritual cheer. “When I say Oakland, you say lacrosse… Oakland, lacrosse, Oakland lacrosse,” the kids yell. “Who are we? O, a, k, l, a, n, d. Oakland lacrosse!”
Last summer, boys and girls in the Oakland Lacrosse Club (OLC) participated in a number of lacrosse related activities throughout the Bay Area. Kelley fielded a U15 team at the Battle of the Bay tournament on Treasure Island.
His players battled and played five games in two days against elite teams from Sacramento and Santa Cruz.
In addition, two of Kelley’s players were chosen to play in the 2014 World Youth Lacrosse Championship in Denver, Colorado. Along with playing in five games against teams from across the country, kids in the OLC did some team bonding activities which included white water river rafting, watching other world championship games, and doing an intense workout at Red Rocks amphitheater.
One rainy night last fall, Kelley and his supporters organized their second annual hors d’oeuvres and cocktails silent auction, at the Minna Art Gallery in San Francisco.
Although Kelley appeared happy to be there, the dark circles under his eyes revealed his fatigue.
Worried about sustaining the OLC’s funding, he had spent the entire day sending texts, calling and emailing people, urging them to attend the auction, which featured donated items ranging from a Lake Tahoe house rental, to a football autographed by San Francisco 49ers hall of famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice.
“It’s hard to continually run a strong program when you’re taking care of a number of different issues,” Kelley admitted, sounding tired.
“In the past six to seven months, I’ve applied for about 12 different grants and am always meeting with individual donors.”
As a DJ blasts 80’s R & B and contemporary pop music from five giant speakers, Kelley works the room. He high-fives some people as if they were his players and nods his head as he leans over to listen to other people’s conversations.
Kelley hoped to raise $25,000 before the night was over. At one point, grabbing a microphone, he encouraged his supporters to donate to the OLC even if they didn’t bid on an item.
“The price to support one kid in the program is $1,000,” he said to a crowd of 75 people, which included businessmen, parents and lacrosse enthusiasts from all over the Bay Area. “All I ask is for people to make some kind of donation.”
The night was a success. By the end, Kelley had raised around $27,000 for the OLC – enough to cover field costs, food, uniforms, equipment, transportation costs, and computers for the OLC’s academic program.
Moving forward, Kelley would like for his program to grow even more. In the next few years he hopes to expand the program to start as early as 4th grade, with the goal of having a network of support for kids from their peers – college players mentoring high school players, high school players mentoring middle school players, and middle school players mentoring elementary students.
“Seeing this vision come to fruition is important,” Kelley said. “Kids from anywhere can exceed expectations. I knew if I put the right things in place, I could just sit back and watch as Oakland kids catch, throw and scoop up a ball real easily. That’s why you coach… to see the growth, drive and competitiveness from all of your players in such a short time.”