Lacrosse calls local veteran

Tacoma Lacrosse Academy founder to coach Ugandan National team

By Melanie Casey on January 20, 2012

He doesn't even like to drive over bridges, but local lacrosse coach Lawrence Mackey flew halfway around the world recently to help develop the sport he credits with saving his life.

Though it may be hundreds of years old and well known in North America, lacrosse is still a new entity in the eastern African country of Uganda.  And when Mackey, an Army veteran and founder of the Tacoma Lacrosse Academy, happened to see Ugandan lacrosse information on Facebook last summer, he recalls thinking, "‘Get out of here,'" he said. "'If there's lacrosse in Uganda, I have to be there.'"

In association with Fields of Growth, a non-profit organization that uses the sport to help communities in central and southwest Uganda, Mackey traveled to the capitol city of Kampala Nov. 30, where he spent two weeks training about 50 lacrosse players at the Makerere University Business School (MUBS). The trip was made possible thanks to donations from friends as well as Mackey's Puyallup Panthers lacrosse team, which worked tirelessly to raise money for the trip, he said.

The Federation of International Lacrosse officially recognized the Ugandan Lacrosse League (ULU) as an associate member only in 2010, but the country hopes to send a team to the World Lacrosse Championships in Denver in 2014. It will be the first African team ever to compete.

During his December visit, Mackey not only helped train players, but also advised ULU leadership about how to sustain the sport and build the program nationally.

Initial training sessions were a little rough, Mackey said, as the players were not as disciplined as they should have been. Though several Division I players have visited in the past and shared their expertise, "(the players) haven't had a consistent coach," Mackey said. "You leave a kid with a stick and he does what he feels like, not what he should do."

Mackey used his Army training and experience (he served with the 14th Military Intelligence Battalion on Fort Lewis in the early 1990s) to help provide some structure for the players.

"I was doling out pushups and running," he said. "Thank God I'm a vet and I've had to do PT before. It really helped me get the guys moving."

His persistence and genuine presence paid off - at a lacrosse media day event held during the visit, the ULU announced Mackey, much to his surprise, as one of the coaches of the burgeoning national team. He thinks part of the reason was that "I felt it, I believed in the people," he said.

But the trip wasn't all about lacrosse. Mackey also took time to visit an AIDS clinic and the HOPEFUL school as well as sit in on a youth council and visit the Life Church, which is run by a group from Tacoma.

All were close to his heart, as he lost both of his parents to AIDS while he was still a teenager.  

Mackey plans to return to Uganda in June for the King's Cup, more training and to revisit the Life Church.

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