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Girls lacrosse program helps build character on JBLM

Former Soldier stays connected to military famlies through youth lacrosse program

Northwest Guardian

Published: 10:49AM January 16th, 2014

After serving eight years in the Army, Sekou Spencer wanted to continue working with service members.

Since Spencer finished his tour with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2004, he settled into a DOD position with the base’s Network Enterprise Center. He also found an avenue to connect with military families through the University Place Lacrosse Club.

“You get the opportunity to influence and work with (service members’) children,” Spencer said. “And I get the chance to bond with my daughter. When we’re on the field, that’s our time.”

Spencer is the director of the girls’ lacrosse program of the UPLC and coaches with Army spouse Meredith Burney. With their backgrounds and familiarity with the military lifestyle, both Spencer and Burney want JBLM families to know lacrosse, a popular sport on the East Coast, is growing in popularity on the West Coast.

“Being a prior Soldier myself and knowing that a lot of Soldiers here on (base) come from the East Coast where lacrosse is in their DNA, lacrosse is here,” Spencer said.

Burney’s husband, Lt. Col. Rick Burney of Madigan Army Medical Center, played intramural lacrosse while at the United States Military Academy and at the varsity level while at the University of Oxford. When the Burneys heard of a girls program starting for fifth/sixth graders and seventh/eighth graders in University Place, their daughter Kate gave it a try.

“She’s totally hooked,” Meredith Burney said. “I want to see the program succeed and I’m passionate about girls sports. They deserve a competitive arena.”

Spencer grew up in California playing football, baseball and basketball. He became involved in the sport when his son started to play lacrosse through UPLC. When the girls program started more than two years ago, his daughter Piper picked up a lacrosse stick. Spencer and Burney have grown in the sport as their kids have, and have noticed change in the girls who come through the program.

“It’s neat to see the girls who have been playing for a couple of years now, and came in very shy,” Burney said. “Those girls are no longer meek. They’re not bossy and they’re not bullies, but they are assertive. That’s because you put a stick in their hand and tell them to charge and they do.”

Lacrosse is gaining in popularity at the high school and collegiate level. Kate and Piper traveled to Stanford University last summer for a lacrosse camp where they played with collegiate players and national coaches.

In the South Sound lacrosse clubs have sprouted up in a variety of cities, to compete with the larger presence in King County.

The lacrosse season starts in February and includes about 14 games. For the postseason teams play in jamborees and tournaments, and individual players play for select teams that travel outside of the state. The season wraps up in June.

The UPLC is looking for girls and boys lacrosse players and coaches who want to get involved, even if just for a season.

“Soldiers are moving around and if they want to get their kids exposed to lacrosse knowing they’re going to get stationed further back East, here’s the opportunity,” Burney said. “With both of us being military, we’re not just developing athletes and teaching a sport. We’re big on character development.”

Somer Breeze-Hanson: somer.breeze-hanson@nwguardian.com, @somerbhanson