Strengthening a growing program: Ranau Lacrosse Project Part II

After 30 hours of travel from the United States to Sabah, Malaysia we found each other, got in the car, and continued our journey to Ranau, Sabah. It was 9 AM on Wednesday morning and we left the capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, drove through the jungle and gazed at the mountain that watch over us for the next ten days.

A few hours later we arrived in Ranau and found our way to the school, SMK Mat Salleh. I recognized the security man at the gate, he gave a big smile and we were in. It was time to get back to it! The four of us stared in awe as we stepped out of the car and onto the the lacrosse field, the one we had left just under a year ago. It was brilliant looking and we were astounded by how great it looked; freshly lined with new, restructured goals.

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Things looked good from here. It was Wednesday morning and the sun was bright. We had two full sessions planned each day, with classroom chalk talk in the afternoons and development in the evening. Chris, Stephanie, Kelly, and I got settled in and prepared for the first session. I could smell the distinct scent of thick South East Asian humidity, with remnants of pollution sprinkled in. The haze had yet to set in and the forecast predicted only blue skies for the next two weeks. In early September pollution from palm oil plantations in neighboring, Indonesia, creates a haze that settles over the island of Borneo, specifically Sabah, and leaves the state without clear skies and poor air quality for a month. It was important that we counted our reps and got them in now. 

It was great to be back at the SMK Mat Salleh school, but even better to have Kelly Case with us again; the first Fulbright English Teacher at the school, who had helped initiate the program last year. Since her return to the states in late December 2015 she has spent her time teaching and coaching girls lacrosse on Long Island, New York, while continuing to be a huge contribution to planning our clinic this year in Malaysia. Along with Kelly, Erin Campbell the resident English Teacher at the school this year whom has been a huge contribution to our local team has been diligently training and putting together practice times for our athletes. She helped to coordinate the clinics and development sessions. Also joining us was Chris Porten, KLTW's Creative Director based in NY and Stephanie Cronk, an elementary school teacher with a rich background in lacrosse.  The first day was crazed with the students incredibly excited to be working with us and learning the game of lacrosse once again. Wednesday through Friday from 8 to 10:30 AM we focused on teaching lacrosse and introduction to numerous gym classes from grades eight through ten help spread awareness and get more students involved with the sport. Through these gym class sessions we hoped to recruit and encourage more students to come out and join the lacrosse club which is our structured club team for the SMK Mat Salleh school and Ranau district.

The first few days flew by, and the evening training sessions with the older students became more and more competitive as the week went on. We were happy to see a few new additions to the team since Kelly had left in December, most noticeably Rebecca who is now our starting goalie, as well as Clarence who is a natural born leader with the girls. 

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Big stoke came when we brought out the practice jerseys we had personalized for the team. Thanks to 4Point4 Sports in NY, we put together reversibles that were given to all of our players, sporting the Sabah state flag and colors. We also gave our team donated game jerseys and some throw back kilts from the New Rochelle lacrosse program which the girls were thrilled about!

Team practices focused on more team concepts this time around in an effort to challenge our girls and their ability to understand strategy and the importance of teamwork and how these concepts can change the game on the field. With a fully lined field and two goalies, we were able to have complete scrimmages, pinning the girls against each other, something they enjoyed the most during lacrosse practice. As a coaching staff we were thoroughly impressed with the progress and improvement from last years trip, to this week, and beyond. The school and staff has really taken to supporting the lacrosse program and it's development. 

Then came our favorite time, the annual Lacrosse Festival. Weve held this traditional event on each trip we have been on, Asia and Africa. This time, we had a huge turnout with over 60 students coming out to the SMK Mat Salleh Samson Tan Lacrosse field to participate and make it an amazing day! 

The day started off bright and early with a lacrosse skills and drills session, warming the students and leaders up with a full bout of stretching, dynamic warm ups, and basic stick and ball drills. From here, we divided into one-on-ones around the field from four corners eventually working up to a three-on-two slow breaks. With the sun finally peeking out during mid morning it was time for a break. Water was on tap and the music started to pump, it was game time! 

Trust falls eventually turned into wheelbarrow runs and the boys tore it up, taking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, winner took home the prize of a USA themed gift bag, the students loved them!

Next came the lax limbo, a massive hit with our international programs. A popular kids activity here in the US, the simple idea of trying to walk under a lacrosse stick is thrilling to our students who had only even played once before with their English teacher. Off to a slow start, we finally narrowed down and had a few winners with an unbelieveably low limbo!

A few more water breaks and games led to our final activity for the day before the team scrimmage, the highly anticipated air guitar competition which the girls rocked! We have witnessed a few of these in our time, but this one may have been the best yet. As many of our students already rock the ukulele, the lax guitar came naturally and they put on a huge show. One of our newer students, Clarence, came in and won the competition with an outstanding rendition of rockin' out!

We closed out the afternoon with a full field scrimmage and spoils for the victors. Elliott refereed the game while Kelly coached the away team and Chris and Stephanie coached the home team. It was off to a fast start, with dark going up 3-0, with a game to 7 due to time constraints. The home team came back due to a pair of goals from Marlene and Bridget. With a timeout towards the end of the scrimmage, the environment was fierce and by now, a fair amount of local students and people stood by and watched the game from the top of the hill.  

The game ended in a 7-6 stunning fashion with the last goal winning after the tie, the away team took it home. The losing team was subjected to an old Coach Chris favorite, star-jumps. In support of their teammates the winning team ended up doing the jumps as well, or maybe they just really love yelling “I’m a star,” yet to be determined. An incredibly successful day was then capped with a talk and breakdown. Students shared their thoughts and the coaching staff thanked the students for coming out. We gave out gifts and prizes at the end to the students and winners. It was a day where we all won, we were beyond excited to be back at it. 

The coaching staff had a few days off and it saw us finding rest and relaxation on Mantinanai Island. 

Yes, that photo is real, the water off the coast of Borneo is unreal! 

Once back at the school, our clinic lasted a few more days, Tuesday night through Thursday night. On Wednesday we held a private screening with our players for a unreleased lacrosse documentary focused on girls lacrosse in New York, it was a hit with our players and they were instantly able to relate with their lives here in Ranau, it really proved to the coaches how lacrosse can draw connections from every corner of the world and empower students from our backyards in the States to those we’ve grown so close to on the other side of the world. As an organization, we were glad to show the video, we found the girls were able to find a bit of purpose in it and see what women's lacrosse is like here, in America. 

The following two days, we held introductory lacrosse clinics at the SMK Ranau school, just up the road from our home base of SMK Mat Salleh, working with over 60 students to raise interest and meet with school leaders to form the lacrosse club. As we predicted, the school took to the sport and instantly showed genuine interest and enjoyed the practices.  We left a number of men’s and women's sticks, as well as full size goal on the soccer field for the students and school to use. Throughout our sessions with the school, we put a plan into place to hold an interscholastic scrimmage with the SMK Mat Salleh school and weekly practices, led by the gym teacher and English teachers.  

SMK Ranau lacrosse club students and faculty

SMK Ranau lacrosse club students and faculty

Practice continued and the days came to an end. Suddenly it was Thursday evening and our final practice had ended. I found myself full of emotions and realized that our vision was becoming true and the Ranau Lacrosse Project had sustained a year, and it was obvious this was only going to get bigger from here. The coaches all gave emotional speeches and we broke down our huddle for one last time. Wisdom was shared and our new captains were appointed; Danny, Banana, and Bridget. The team thanked our previous captains Kenny and Dyna for doing a terrific job of leading the program and making it bigger and better in our absence. Team photos turned into impressive dabbing, and just like that our two weeks of lacrosse ended. 

One last team shot with the entire club!