Senior Andy Swanson never would have thought that Lacrosse, Jamaica and a mission trip could all fit together in one sentence. But a volunteer organization showed both Andy and fellow senior Baker Stradinger that it is both possible and rewarding.
Shawnee Mission East students Andy Swanson and Baker Stradinger spent a week of their summer volunteering in Jamaica, where they taught children about the game of lacrosse through a program called Fields of Growth. This corporation specializes in developing the game of lacrosse throughout the world.
Fields of Growth was founded in 2009 by lacrosse coach Kevin Dugan. The program currently travels to Uganda and Jamaica, and is working on increasing the number of destinations. This organization also has an astounding web-base and social media presence that they are receiving attention for.
“I was scrolling through Facebook when this program caught my attention,” Swanson said. “I had never seen a mission trip based around lacrosse or any sport at all so I was really interested.”
According to Swanson, funding was a huge aspect of preparing for this trip. Raising money for flights, food and necessities can make or ruin this trip. Fields of Growth mainly focused on looking for old and/or used lacrosse equipment for their fundraising as well as asking for donations towards their trip.
“We tried to collect as much equipment as we could from around the community,” Stradinger said. “We told the entire lacrosse team at East, we put an ad in the PV Post and we sent out emails trying to collect as much equipment as we could before we went down there.”
The day to day schedule in Jamaica was very different as well. While most mission trips range from building schools to tornado relief, Fields of Growth’s claim to fame is that they plan and run lacrosse camps for kids in the area.
The day starts early for the volunteers with a dreaded wake up call around 6:30.
“We woke up at 6:30 in the morning and weren’t allowed to shower,” Stradinger said. “We didn’t have air conditioning either so we were all pretty sweaty and gross from the night.”
Once they were all awake they grabbed bowls of cereal and got to the lacrosse fields by 7:30. Between the time the volunteers arrived and the camps began at 10, a lot of preparation was needed.
“To prepare for the camps, we strung sticks, put out the goals, got out the benches, and got water,” said Stradinger. “We just kind of did everything that needed to be done before the kids got there, but usually they got their early because they didn’t have anything else to do.”
The camp consisted of kids with all sorts of family backgrounds. These ranged from middle to lower class, nuclear families to single parents, happy and upbeat to down and lonesome. Fields of Growth provided an opportunity for all of these kids to spend their day doing something fun that they wouldn’t have gotten to do otherwise. It provided a getaway from their family, hunger and cultural issues to have fun with other children in their communities.
Since all of this was new to the participants, they were excited to see what was in store. All of the kids rushed into a herd of laughter and excitement as they attempted to line up and get their equipment. They yelled and grabbed trying to get one of the three read helmets out of the bunch. By the time the first camp started at 10 a.m., the kids had already been running around with their sticks for 20-30 minutes.
The camp started off with basic drills. All the volunteers smiled and watch one kid after another sprint out of line to chase a loose ball lost during the passing drills. They laughed as the oversized helmets bobbled and twisted on the smaller kids’ heads while they worked on footwork. And loved to see all of the kids developing a love for the game that is such a big part of their own lives.
After all of the drills were done it was time to scrimmage. All of the kids wanted to be with their best friends which made it very difficult to divide up into teams. Eventually the teams were set and it was game on.
“It started out as, for the most part, only the kids playing,” Swanson says, “But [the kids] were having so much fun that by the end of it, most of [the staff] were playing with them.”
Swanson said that by the end of the camps at 1:30 p.m., they were just as worn out as the kids and were eager to relax and see the other side of Jamaica. Each day Fields of Growth picks a destination of interest for their volunteers to go visit.
One of the tourist sites they visited was 9 Mile Village, home to Bob Marley. Along with 9 Mile they visited Trenchtown, one of the most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods in Jamaica.
“We played a soccer game on a field in Trenchtown,” Stradinger said, “and after the game we went and got food from this man who was eight years younger than Marley and grew up with him.”
Stradinger and Swanson are grateful they chose to go on this trip because of how gratifying it was. They could have stayed home, wasting their summers away at the pool. Instead they made a decision that bettered themselves and the lives of many children in Jamaica.
“Getting to know all of the people and cultures in Jamaica was really cool,” said Swanson. “It was an amazing experience to be able to see all these kids enjoy lacrosse like we do.”