John Christmas is a professional lacrosse player on the LXM Tour and Pro Rep for Maverik Lacrosse. He is currently traveling through Uganda, East Africa with Fields of Growth, and serving as the head men’s clinician for the D’Accardi Clinics sponsored by the Federation of International Lacrosse to support the development of the Uganda Lacrosse Union. For more information visit www.fieldsofgrowth.org.
I don’t even know where to begin, we are just one day in and this has already been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. I have to admit, I had no idea what to expect when I got off the plane in Entebbe (Uganda’s only airport.) The warm welcome, Ugandan hospitality and amazing people have exceeded my expectations. The energy at our first practice was off the hook! These guys are fast, athletic and play the game 100 MPH. Their foot speed is unreal but as to be expected their skills and understanding of team concepts is still really raw.
We arrived in Entebbe late at night, after sunset and were met by Fields of Growth staff from Uganda, and a whole crew of American volunteers that have been over there for the last month running lacrosse practices in Kampala and working in the village. They were so pumped to see us and fortunately all of our 22 checked donation bags made it over to Uganda and loading them onto the bus was quite the process. We headed to a local restaurant to unwind and celebrate Jeff Howell birthday, a very instrumental person involved with Fields of Growth. After talking with everyone it was very evident that we were all there for the same and right reasons.
Day 1 started with an early morning wake up call to run with Hannah Nielson and a few of the other volunteers. The sights and sounds that first morning were amazing – a wild mix of birds and animals making the most beautiful music you can imagine. While coaching lacrosse in Kampala, we are staying in a guest house just off of Lake Victoria. It felt great to get a run in on the rough dirt back roads off Lake Victoria. Little kids running out to greet us was a heart warmer for sure! At no time did anyone feel unsafe which made for a good start to the day.
After a nice run, I jumped into a quick, cold shower and enjoyed breakfast with the group. We had potatoes, beans, pineapple and African Tea. By far the best pineapple I’ve ever had. After breakfast we organized the loads and loads of donated lacrosse equipment and gear – so encouraging to see how many people are supporting this movement.
After suffering through some torturous traffic on our way into Kampala, we arrived at Makerere University Business School to see over 100 players already there, fully suited up and running line drills on their own… It was an inspiring site – full equipment lacrosse not just being played, but flourishing right in the heart of Africa. UNREAL! I hopped right in line with them and got my legs and stick going.
I served as the head men’s clinician and Hannah and Ann ran the girl’s training session. Dugan brought new practice gear back from the states which sent team morale through the roof from the get go. We started with stick work, moved to ground ball play and then on to 1v1’s before rolling the balls out for a wild up and down scrimmage.
Their style of play is the exact opposite some recent criticisms of the lower scoring college game. The Cranes (Ugandan Mascot) run up and down the field at a furious pace, full throttle, taking the ball to the hoop every chance they get. INSANE ENTHUSIASM! Their speed stood out, but more than anything the most encouraging takeaway was their overwhelming spirit of joy and excitement these guys received from playing lacrosse… THEIR ENTHUSIASM IS INSANE! They communicate very well out on the field… These guys never shut their mouths and the chanting, banter and trash talk is non-stop. Something I have already come to love about Uganda is the culture of music and dance. People love to sing, chant and dance and the Uganda Lacrosse players are no different – they already have a whole series of chants, dances and songs that have become part of their newly formed traditions. The team spirit is amazing, and as Ann Elliot (Northwestern Assistant Coach) put it, “passion is the most difficult thing to teach and they clearly don’t lack that.”
The men’s scrimmage was a little lopsided with the red squad rolling over the white squad – The women’s game went into overtime and we all ran over to their field with the men’s players picking sides – I’ve honestly never seen so much energy at any practice in my entire life – the guys and girls on both sides were hooting, hollering and chanting the entire overtime which ended with a huge mob scene at midfield that led to more Ugandan chanting and dancing… After practice we took off for a 3.5 hour drive to the rural village of Kkindu where we will be hosting a Youth Day celebration tomorrow. After the scrimmage was over a player on the white team came up to me and said “what were we missing today? What do we have to do to be better? Astonished, I looked at the ground to think a moment and I said we need to be a little more unselfish and went on the normal coaching tangent. At no time did his focus on my words vary, at no time did he stop looking me in the eyes. It’s very evident that this project, mission, goal and vision is real and it’s going to be a special thing when it all truly comes together.
Hannah Nielson will be checking in tomorrow with an update from our visit to Kkindu Village to visit the Fields of Growth “field office” with an update on our Youth Day celebration.
A few miscellaneous thoughts and pointers;
•Great orientation dinner and meeting at Dugan’s Aunts House in Morristown, NJ (thanks Aunt Suzy, awesome chicken parm.) Ryan Flanagan drove in from West Islip to talk to the group of volunteers (15+) and their parents. Since his trip last fall Flanny has been spreading the vision of Fields of Growth like the Gospel – there were two other West Islip volunteers on trips this summer and Brian Caulfield (U Albany) volunteered as an intern this summer and has revamped the FofG Pen Pal program.
•Quick shout outs to Maverik Lacrosse and the Federation of International Lacrosse for supporting my trip (FIL.) The FIL has helped fund my trip, along with Hannah Nielson and Ann Elliot. The camp we are running in Uganda is officially called the D’Accardi Intl. Camp. Uganda was recognized with membership in the FIL this past spring and since that time interest in the game has spread like wildfire. This interest has been fueled by a partnership between Fields of Growth and Makerere University Business School, where the Uganda Lacrosse Union currently runs practices.
•Adam Little, Assistant Men’s Coach at Vanderbilt is traveling with us to help coach, while also shooting a video documentary on Fields of Growth and the Uganda Lacrosse Union. This documentary should tell a pretty powerful story. Stay tuned!