My name is Grace Bang. That's me in the rainbow sweater with my two brothers. This picture was taken right before a session at our local youth lacrosse program.
At 7 years old, I had no idea how far my stick and goggles would take me.
I was given the gift of being exposed to the sport of lacrosse at a young age. As my world got bigger and I started to enter adulthood, I realized I would not be half the woman I am today without this sport.
Thanks to lacrosse, I can always count on my strength as a source of confidence. I've met people who believed in me even when I stopped believing in myself. I've learned what it means to be a role model and how large of an impact I can have on a young girl just by giving her a high five after she catches the ball for the first time. I've met many friends who continue to rally behind me. Because of lacrosse, my options for colleges, as well as the scholarships I was eligible for, doubled.
Thanks to lacrosse, I know what it means to be truly passionate about something.
There are many girls out there who might not have access to those same opportunities, simply because no one handed them a lacrosse stick.
This just scratches the surface of explaining my "why" in all of this. I think by spreading knowledge about lacrosse culture and what it stands for, it can infinitely increase the amount of opportunities for the girls in Syracuse. By increasing the accessibility of the youth lacrosse program in the city of Syracuse, we hope to increase the chances for instilling strength and determination in young girls as well as offer a program that can foster mentorship and guidance.
Playing the sport of lacrosse has opened so many doors for me personally, and I truly believe that every girl should have the same chance that I had.
I started playing lacrosse at a young age by attending clinics and weekly sessions through the youth program in my community. Once I was in 7th grade, I played on the modified lacrosse team for my middle school and continued on to play junior varsity in 8th grade. I played lacrosse at the varsity level in high school.
Around middle school, I also started to play for a club lacrosse program in order to play in the winter and summer seasons and to gain more exposure to college coaches. I played midfield growing up, and as I got to the varsity level I learned I was a more defensively minded player.
Each summer I would attend lacrosse tournaments where sidelines were lined with college coaches scouting players whom they might be interested in recruiting. It was a very eye-opening visual that illustrated the upcoming opportunities lacrosse was providing. As I worked on emailing coaches and reaching out to different schools, I began to hear back from different programs about playing for them.
My senior year in high school our team did great things. My team had two new coaches that year and we did not know what to expect. We were pushed harder than ever when it came to running and athleticism. What stood out to me during that time was that even as we were being asked to go the extra mile (literally), the energy of my team remained high and we were very receptive to the idea of working harder and really testing our limits.
That year our team found a different level of chemistry and camaraderie that translated into our play. The atmosphere at practice and games was full of belief in each other which built confidence in each player. We went on to become Sectional Champions that year which was more than we could have ever hoped for back in the early spring.
After graduating high school and narrowing my college decision, I went on to play lacrosse at SUNY Albany.
Practices were longer, play was faster, coaches were tougher.
Heading into freshmen year it was comforting to know I had 30 instant friends as soon as I stepped onto the field. I met some of the best people playing on that lacrosse team. It definitely provided a cushion of confidence to fall back on when everything else in my life was uncomfortably new and changing.
Being a full-time student and also dedicating lots of time on the field and in the weight room, balance became increasingly important. Time management and being productive became my top priorities which helped me accelerate and thrive in my studies.
While I loved my time at Albany, I realized the college wasn't the best fit for me. I decided to transfer to LeMoyne College in the spring of my freshmen year, and to play for their lacrosse team.
Playing at LeMoyne exposed me to some of the most empowered, bad-ass women coaches who served as major role models in my life. I was pushed physically and mentally, being asked to do things I never thought I could achieve. It's vital to have people who will continue to believe in you when you start to doubt yourself. It instills resilience and the ability to lean on others in order to work toward a common goal.
That spring, we became NE10 Champions and went on to winning the NCAA Division II Women's Lacrosse Championship. (That picture is of us holding up our NCAA rings.) It was the first national championship in LeMoyne women's lacrosse history. It was awesome to see how excited the whole community was back at home. The experiences from being in the Final Four were ones that will stay with me forever.
All of these opportunities have stemmed from lacrosse and the incredible experiences I had because of it. As I continue to find my way through the world of "adulting", I realize that there are lots of different aspects of life where I find my lacrosse background has aided me. In job interviews, I've credited many of my teamwork and leadership qualities to the sport as well as the ability to handle high pressure, fast-paced situations.
I continue to meet people in the lacrosse community who are always willing to lend a hand or give some advice. It's powerful to have that network of people to reach out to when you need help; the more minds collaborating, the better. One thing about the lacrosse world is that there are common values among the players. Even as we compete and strive to be better than we were yesterday, we play because we love the sport and it illuminates a path towards greatness when you put your passion and determination behind it. There is also a sense of family in lacrosse which is full of tough love, uplifting moments and a deeper sense of purpose. Lacrosse is a growing sport, which gives it a dynamic element that more people should want to be a part of. The roots and origin of the sport are very unique and distinguish it from any other. There has always been a sense of pride and sacredness within the core of lacrosse which instills accountability and honor in its players. With the sport spreading, it's the perfect time to join and be a part of its growth.
I share my story to try and highlight the amazing qualities of the sport of lacrosse. I want to help provide this option for other girls out there who may be interested. I'm always learning more from this dynamic sport, and I continue to be challenged by it as I approach it from varying angles. Lacrosse can be what you make it, and I'm here to help you make it something great.