Kids take a break and confer on lacrosse during the final training session on Thursday, August 12, 2021, in Chicago's McKinley Park.

McKinley Park Lacrosse Program Trains Kids, Breaks Social Barriers

Published September 10, 2021

More than 40 children enjoyed a free lacrosse clinic in McKinley Park over the summer, a program from the Pilsen neighborhood-based Community Health Initiative Program (CHIP), Simply Social Sports (S3) and the OWLS youth development organization.

 
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For lacrosse trainer Diego Salas, the clinic is a chance to introduce city kids to a sport that has traditionally been more popular in white, suburban areas.

 
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Lacrosse instructor Diego Salas takes a break from training kids in McKinley Park at the summer clinic from CHIP, S3 and OWLS.Lacrosse instructor Diego Salas takes a break from training kids in McKinley Park at the summer clinic from CHIP, S3 and OWLS.“I live in a primarily Latino neighborhood, and the OWLS program brought lacrosse to me,” Salas said. “The idea of these free sessions is to get the kids to play lacrosse in the long term and benefit from playing a primarily white-dominated sport.”

Trying Something New

According to demographics company Zippia, only 8.8 percent of lacrosse players in the U.S. are Latino, 6.8 percent are African-American and just 2 percent are Asian-American.

“We are bringing this sport to this area as it’s typically not offered here,” said CHIP member Elsa Vargas, who led organization for the clinic. “It’s an opportunity for kids to try something new.”

 
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The clinic covered six weekly sessions over the summer in McKinley Park, alongside an introduction to golf program also offered for free this summer at the park.

Sticks and Scholarships

Kids in the McKinley Park lacrosse clinic line up to take a shot overlooked by the street wall of buildings of the Central Manufacturing District.Kids in the McKinley Park lacrosse clinic line up to take a shot overlooked by the street wall of buildings of the Central Manufacturing District.OWLS sponsored the equipment for all lacrosse clinics, and after the last clinic, participants were allowed to keep their lacrosse sticks.

Kids who want to continue training and playing after the clinic can still do so for free through an OWLS program, said CHIP organizer Mario Medina.

“OWLS also offers scholarships to students who perform well in the sport,” Vargas said.

 
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Personally and Professionally

Jesus Ortiz, a solar production manager who lives in the Pilsen neighborhood, has his 8- and 9-year-old children attending the clinics. “My kids will continue with the program because it will not just benefit them professionally, but also personally,” Ortiz said.

“Lacrosse helped me network and eventually get admission to an engineering degree at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,” Salas said.

Lacrosse clinic students and coaches raise their sticks in salute in Chicago's McKinley Park at the conclusion of the summer 2021 program.Lacrosse clinic students and coaches raise their sticks in salute in Chicago's McKinley Park at the conclusion of the summer 2021 program.

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