As far as Rob Raphael is concerned, lacrosse is truly a sport for all, no matter your size, shape or physical ability.
Last summer, the Pine Creek High School assistant lacrosse coach founded 719Lacrosse, a nonprofit that helps Colorado Springs special-needs students learn to play lacrosse.
“Our goal is for every athlete to develop a sense of belonging to a community, learn the value of being part of a team and improve self-esteem, fitness and social skills,” said the Briargate resident, whose son, Blake, is a member of the Eagles’ lacrosse team.
719Lacrosse started as an outreach program for adaptive lacrosse, providing kids with physical, cognitive or mental impairments the same training and conditioning as athletes without disabilities. Generally, the same program used for athletes without disabilities can be used for their peers with a disability, with a few modifications.
Raphael said he is getting support from various organizations around the Pikes Peak region and nation such as Warrior Lacrosse, U.S. Lacrosse and Shandy Clinic.
“The idea for this whole thing started two years ago in the spring when a parent came up to me and said, ‘Hey Rob, I want my son to play, but he has cerebral palsy. What can we do?” Raphael said. “I didn’t know what all that meant, but I said, ‘Bring him out. We’ll make him successful.’”
Out of that experience, Raphael tinkered with the idea of starting a nonprofit.
“The future for this is trying to put this in all the high schools and middle schools so we can get these kids involved,” Raphael said. “I’ve also done this with people in wheelchairs. And we’re planning on doing a clinic with the Wounded Warriors project.
A scene Nov. 16 at the Cheyenne Mountain High School fieldhouse brought Raphael’s vision to life.
Individual Education Program (IEP) students, ages 18-21, from districts 12 and 2 played in a modified lacrosse game where the final score didn’t matter. The most important thing that day was having fun.
“We work on independent living skills, education training and employment skills,” said Nicole Beauvais, District 12 IEP transition coordinator. “We also do sports and other things to increase socialization. Today is one of those special days for everyone.”
Raphael coordinated the match in the fieldhouse and brought with him all the equipment and gear needed for the students.
A goal was scored less than 10 seconds into the game from near midfield, bringing a chorus of cheers from everyone on the field and in attendance.
The students displayed great skill and teamwork and showed more pure love for the game than many able-bodied athletes.
“We had practice for five weeks,” Beauvais said. “A lot of these kids have really improved.”
Beauvais said she is working with other sports organizations around town, as well as PASCO (Personal Assistance Services Of Colorado).
“Rob reached out wanting to have additional help because he had this idea he wanted to do,” said Alayne Kelly with PASCO community outreach. “I said, ‘Let’s work with the schools and their transition teams. We can help these students adapt.’”
D-2 transition coordinator Theresa Felton said the partnership with District 12 has worked out well.
“This has been great,” she said. “The kids are just having a blast.”
Felton added that the students have had a wonderful experience learning lacrosse.
“Obviously, some of the students have picked it up faster than the others, but whatever the strength is of the students we make sure we put them in that area,” she said. “The focus is to get the kids involved and have them be the focus.”