Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Yo Quiero Agua

The humidity in the Samara area of Costa Rica is oppressive.

How oppressive? There's no point in showering, because it does no good at all against the endless sweating.

It's likely that Alex Capretta, who scored 23 goals and added 11 assists during his recently completed senior season, never once sweated as badly as a Princeton lacrosse player as he did Monday afternoon on a field in Samara, Costa Rica, simply by getting off the mini-bus.

The humidity wasn't lost on the local children, even though they live with it full-time.

TigerBlog was holding a bottle of water, one that was about one-third gone, when a pair of young Costa Rican eyes looked up at him, from inside an oversized Princeton lacrosse helmet, and muttered in Spanish, barely audible:

"Yo quiero agua."

TB isn't sure if that means "I want water" or "I need water."

He did understand that the boy was really, really thirsty, so TB gave him his bottle.

Which the young boy promptly chugged.

The language barrier was not an issue on this field for these two hours. Here were children, holding lacrosse sticks, and there were American Ivy League college lacrosse players, waiting to play with the kids.

It was quite a scene, right from the second the Tigers stepped off their mini-buses.

It started with bags opened up to the children, who put on Princeton helmets, gloves, pads and all. After that, it was a few minutes of stretching, a few more minutes of drills and finally a game among the kids, followed by a 15-minute exhibition intrasquad Princeton game.

The kids couldn't have been more appreciative.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates had one command for his players when they stepped on the field: Make sure no child is left alone.

He didn't have to worry. Each kid was throwing, catching, playing goalie (with tennis balls), running around being chased by three Princeton players. 

It was a great scene, and it was such an important moment of this trip. It came on a day that began with bicycling, jogging on the beach, jumping into the Pacific Ocean on a pristine beach at a scenic resort hotel.

And then in the afternoon, it was a, what, one-mile ride to this field, tucked into a community center, for a few hours with children - and their parents - who were so touched by the fact that these Princeton players were there for them.

Those kids will never forget this day.

The question is this:

How does a two-hour stop at this field impact the big picture of lacrosse here in Costa Rica?

Well, this is how it starts.

Combine this with the game that Princeton played against the Costa Rican national team the day before four hours away in San Jose, and the grass roots effort has begun.

The need is to keep the sticks in their hands, so that the next group of kids who sees them gets curious and want to get sticks in their hands. Eventually, there are enough players who move up in age together and actually play and have other teams against whom to compete.

Over time, the sport can grow from the grass roots up. It'll never be anywhere near soccer in this country, but it can became what the English national lacrosse team, whom Princeton played on its international trip four years ago in Spain and Ireland, an alternative to athletes who come up and aren't identified as soccer prospects.

It'll take a long time to get there, and hey, maybe it'll never come close to that.

If it does, then the last two days here with the Princeton men's lacrosse team will have been the turning point for the sport in Costa Rica.

If not, then the Tigers still did something very, very nice Monday afternoon.

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