As a Duke student as well as a kid who grew up in the northeastern United States, I've grown accustomed to the sport of lacrosse. The sport, which is of Native American origin, has seen national participation skyrocket in both men's and women's athletics, with American universities even starting to field more teams. As a Duke student I have been lucky enough to watch future professionals, All Americans, Team USA members, and even got to see a National Championship come to Durham last spring. It is through these experiences that I began to learn about the sport and its growth, but others, have the passion to take this further.
In 2010 Fields of Growth International introduced the sport to Uganda, and impoverished East African nation that has had a ruthless history of war. Taking a sport that is relatively young in its growth in the United States, where it was founded, was a risk, but Fields of Growth International was willing to take the risk to not only give young Ugandans the opportunity to play, but to build a sport they loved around the world. The mission is more than just one of sport though, as it brings hope to a place continually torn apart. The mission came with a dream.
One of the major contributors to the campaign is Tyler Steinhardt, who founded Shootout for Soldiers, a 24 hour, 2 game event to raise money for the wounded warrior project. Steinhardt envisioned the service when he was only in high school, but continued on with the idea while studying at American University. The project was a huge success, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charity, as well as bringing players from all the country, even veterans, to share the field for more than the sport itself. Steinhardt, as well as others, hope to bring the Ugandan National Team to Denver in 2014 to compete in the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships with the Dream2014 campaign.
Uganda is the only African nation that currently sponsors lacrosse. In a sport in its first stage of growth, what better way to send a message that lacrosse has worldwide vision than to help bring Uganda to compete. Lacrosse stars such as Rob Pannell, the all time NCAA point leader, have even helped coach the Ugandan team and have inspired a passion for sport and competition in a place that no one envisioned it would be.
Uganda has had a history of violence, poverty, and human rights violation. The nation's recent history started to become widely known around the United States, especially college campuses, because of reported abuses by rebel leader Joseph Kony. Child labor, an issue Americans only see in history class, is common in Uganda. Health hazards that we often forget run rampant in the East African nation.
Bringing Uganda over to play this tournament in the big picture does not change any of those sad truths, but for every one of those athletes it brings hope that one day it will be better. It lets them live out a dream that was before not possible. It will allow them to forget the tragedies at home, even if just for the time they take the field. It will change the life of every person connected to the endeavor. It is the passion of sport in its purest form.
People will say that Uganda does not deserve to be there because they will not be able to play "competitively", but this is the World Championship of the sport, stress on world. To have an African representative would not only help the sport grow, but would allow all corners of the world to be united based on the initiative of:
One World. One Team. One Dream.
As someone lucky enough to be around the sport at the highest level, and see it played by some of the best in the entire world, I can only hope a nation less fortunate, with more passion for the sport than I can imagine, gets the chance to live their dream.