Lacrosse

American Immigrant to Israel Brings Lacrosse Into Growing Field of Sports Philanthropy

The 30-year-old St. Louis native has opened a new outreach program in the spirit of the basketball group he already runs, Hoops for Kids.

BALTIMORE – The 18 goals scored by Israel’s national lacrosse team during its exhibition game victory against the Philippines were obvious enough. But most of the spectators in the bleachers didn’t seem to follow much else about the distinctly American game − Native American, that is.

While terms such as “crease man,” “cradling” and “V-cut” may have meant little to them, many of the nearly 200 spectators did their part just by being there. The cars dropping off the players also deposited lacrosse gear: an impressive pile of donated gloves, sticks, helmets and cleats. That evening, the items were taken to a local warehouse and eventually on to Israel, where children in Netanya will use them as David Lasday spreads the gospel of a sport very few Israelis know.

Lasday, a 30-year-old St. Louis native who lives in Netanya, is thinking of calling his new lacrosse-outreach program Sticks for Kids, echoing the basketball-outreach program he already runs, Hoops for Kids.

Hoops for Kids is administered jointly by the Netanya municipality and Super League team Barak Netanya. Lasday and the team’s players conduct basketball clinics for first- through sixth-graders in Netanya schoolyards, gymnasiums and public courts. The initiative provides positive exposure for the team while introducing children to the joys of basketball.

The program was launched in 2008 by David Colburn, a Washington, D.C. venture capitalist who also owns the Barak Netanya club. Hoops for Kids, with an annual budget of $100,000, and its lacrosse-centric offshoot fit into Colburn’s approach of tying high-level competitive sports to reaching children through athletics.

The trade-off sometimes involves Colburn’s subsidizing a U.S. athlete in exchange for that person’s giving back. Both the basketball and lacrosse efforts could become self-sustaining, with income-producing ventures such as sports camps and souvenir sales funding the do-good side of the equation, he explains.

Sports promise a great many benefits to society, Colburn says, adding that he is merely adapting ideas used by community sports clubs overseas. He predicts that lacrosse will find its niche in Israel, too.

Colburn had come to the Baltimore private school’s athletic field to check in with Lasday, who’s also a member of the Israeli team (composed primarily of American Jewish players) that has qualified for next summer’s World Lacrosse Championship in Denver.

The game also presented networking opportunities, and the business being conducted was this: doing good.

One of those schmoozing by the bleachers was Rochelle Coleman, the coach of a Maryland high school girls’ basketball team who met Lasday a few years ago at a U.S. hoops clinic. Lasday quickly recruited her to the Netanya venture and Coleman, a Christian, has since traveled to Israel twice at her own expense to participate in Hoops for Kids.

"In Israel, girls − Ethiopian Jews in particular − identified with me because I’m black and played professionally,” said Coleman, a guard on Syracuse University’s team before playing in the Netherlands. “It was good for them to see that basketball is not something that you just play for fun, but that you can … make a career from it.”

Another part of the day’s networking involved several of Lasday’s partners in a for-profit company that organizes sports clinics for foreign delegations on behalf of the U.S. State Department. One of the partners, Mike Vaughan-Cherubin, said he believes that sports “has a lot to teach if it’s done the right way.”

It’s a sentiment with which Colburn, who calls himself a “serial entrepreneur,” concurs.

“You start with one leg in front of the other. You have to incentivize. Already, the synergy is happening because David [Lasday] is doing the clinics for kids. I just think it’s got huge legs to it.”

As if on cue, Colburn’s phone buzzed with a text message.

“You want to drive to Charlottesville and meet my athlete, 19 years old, [with] big success ahead of him in the marathon?” it read.

The sender was a track-and-field coach in Maryland − someone Colburn had just met at their synagogue’s minyan.

His sports-philanthropy endowments, Colburn said, is “like venture capital, in a weird way.” In his case, though, “it’s not how much money you make, but how much good you can do.”

He mentioned someone else he knows, who coaches an elite-level 400-meter hurdler. The hurdler needs funds to travel abroad to compete, so Colburn agreed to provide some of it − “seed it,” in his parlance − in exchange for the recipient’s running, well, running clinics.

The venture, he said, might be called Sprint for Kids, piggybacking on the existing Hoops for Kids and Sticks for Kids efforts.

Who knows? Maybe doing good will some day lead to an Israeli lacrosse league taking root.

Gilda Haskell Rottman