June 3, 1998 - Lacrosse history was made recently as two youth teams from the towns of Ajar Hilela Jedida and Selibaby in the Guidimakha region of Mauritania faced off in what was the first Lacrosse game ever played on the continent of Africa. Peace Corp volunteers Nick Golumb and Robyn Fink organized the two teams and had been teaching and coaching for almost a year in preparation for the event, held in Selibaby on March 26, 1998. Golumb, who played at Villanova University, wrote to STX in early 1997, telling of the kids' interest in his stick and suggested that they send him a few of the soft-lacrosse sticks to see if it might catch on.
STX General Manager, Dale Kohler says that STX was only too pleased to do so, and was excited to see the outcome. More sticks, balls and even some field sticks and goalie equipment have now been sent as the Mauritanian kids seem to be drawn to the game and more would like to participate. "We think it's neat," said Kohler, "We heard that kids were waiting in lines to play and had to send more sticks. They are playing the game as they play it in France, and all over Europe; with no contact and using the soft equipment. We've just recently sent a few North American field sticks and pads for the goalies. Kids just love Lacrosse if they just get a chance to play it."
As you will read in Nick Golumbs report below, team sports are a new concept to many of the village children and resources, which are scarce, are not often made available for children's activities.
Fink, who played Women's Lacrosse at Texas Christian University, actually coached her kids in a short exhibition of the sport in front of an international Soccer crowd at a youth festival in Selibaby. With any luck, Lacrosse will catch on in Western Africa as it has in Europe and Asia and the far reaches of North America.
Nick Golumb's report:
At first it was a bit difficult to explain the concept of a team sport. A majority of the children had never had the opportunity of seeing or playing a sport before we introduced lacrosse.
From the day we received word that STX lacrosse would donate equipment for the children of Ajar and Selibaby the possibility of teaching the sport of lacrosse became a reality. As soon as we received the equipment, we both set out to begin teaching lacrosse in our respective villages. It has been an incredible experience to teach a sport that has never been seen or heard of in a foreign language. Furthermore, the swiftness of comprehension by the kids these past months was unimaginable.
Additionally, in this society kids are rarely given the chance to participate in any organized activities, as the older youth and adults have precedence.
The extent to which the youth had previously been exposed to any form of exercise or sport was kicking a deflated ball around and traditional wrestling matches held around holiday celebrations.
With time and patience, we both figured out how to effectively communicate with the children and the lacrosse started to come together.
The first ever Women's
Lacrosse player in Africa
The children were attracted to the sticks and balls immediately. Robyn found a high school physical education teacher in Selibaby, Sidina Aly, to assist in coaching, while I coached the Ajar team myself. Both teams were open to boys and girls, ages 9 - 14. The first few months were spent passing and catching the ball until they felt comfortable using the equipment. These months served as an excellent time for us to get to know the children on an individual basis and improve upon our language skills. Our first few practices were conducted using basic vocabulary and sign language, where the coaches and the players probably became even more confused. Terms like "passing" and "catching" did not exist within Hassaniya, the local language of Ajar, pushing us to new levels of creativity.
Hassaniya: "Aiwa, nta yaltak hatha toaaga shawr ahua/hiya
wa huwa laahi tagbalh taaga wa laahi yishishawr muqbil rajaal"
English (loosely): "Ok, you pass the ball to him/her and he
will catch the ball, run and pass it to the next line."
Once the basic skills were mastered the concept of the game was introduced. We decided to follow the rules of the "STX Ball" youth game. Fields were set up, using iron bars and cargo netting for the goals. The crease and midline boundaries were defined by petrified cow manure. After a few weeks of explaining the rules and sometimes-humorous moments of utter confusion, the game just clicked one day. We both had found the most effective way to explain the game, by drawing plays in the dirt and actually playing the game with the children.
A Crease is formed with dried cow dung.
We planned an exhibition game during the SAFRA festival held in Selibaby, Mauritania March 25 - April 2, 1998. SAFRA is an annual West African youth festival held to exchange ideas and promote unity amongst the countries. WE felt this was an excellent opportunity to display the kids and coaches hard work.
Together we proposed adding lacrosse to the SAFRA program, in which the SAFRA committee enthusiastically welcomed us. WE informed our teams and the excitement of playing an actual game, Ajar vs. Selibaby, started to elevate.
In addition, this would be the first time the children on the Ajar team had traveled to Selibaby, meaning the first time to see electricity, drink a cold pop and see the 'big" city. Unfortunately, the existing bureaucracy hindered our plan. One week before the festival the head of the committee claimed he had never heard of our proposal organizing kids to play lacrosse during SAFRA, even though Selibaby had been practicing outside his office door these past months. It was unbelievable that the same man who had received us with open arms, talking about the potential success of lacrosse, was claiming a sort of amnesia. Obviously frustrated and upset, yet still optimistic, we decided to bring the Ajar team down to Selibaby (80 km.) and hold an "unofficial" exhibition game during the week of SAFRA. There was no way anyone was going to ruin this!
On March 24th the Ajar lacrosse team set out by taxi for Selibaby. Permission had been granted by the families of the 9 players to make the trip.
The Ajar team brought the clothes they were wearing and the lacrosse equipment. Peace Corp Mauritania covered the cost of transport and food for the week.
Mothers had a deep sense of apprehension and concern as they watched their children, some for the first time, ride away in the back of the Toyota pickup truck.
The Ajar team met their host family for the week, the family of one of the Selibaby players, Fa (or Eggboy as volunteers call him, for his daily insistence on trying to sell us eggs). It was touching to see Fa comforting and trying to ease the shock of the Ajar team. Finally, the Ajar team was introduced to the Selibaby players and an immediate union was formed.
Upon arrival to the big city, the Ajar team was in complete awe. Never had they seen so much in their life - so many people, food, lights, cars, the list is endless. A New World was opened up. The Ajar team drank their first Coke, which they detested, saw a Fokker Jet land in Selibaby and spoke on the phone for the first time to I's mom, Suzanne Glomb, whom they met when I's family visited in December 1997.
The first game between the two teams was held on March 26th. The two teams showed up in full force and threw on the brand new lacrosse jerseys for the first time.
The two teams stretched, warmed-up and gave the prerequisite, traditional team cheer before starting the game. The referee, Peace Corp Volunteer Darren Drewery, reviewed the rules with the two teams one more time. The two teams lined up for the face off and what followed was absolutely unforgettable. The children played for one hour - playing as if they had played all their lives. They would go after ground balls with aggression and strategically create their plan of attack. With the exception of a few slashes and bumps, they respected the rules of a no-contact game. Although only one girl ended up playing due to preconceived gender roles in Mauritania, it is no exaggeration to say she played with an amazing speed and grace of a lacrosse veteran.
The jerseys provided a sharp contrast between their everyday flip flops, shorts/chias (traditional pants) and the hand-sewn caps worn by some. Excitement filled the air.
At the end of each game they would cheer the other team and shake hands with the joking and heckling thrown in like kids do in America when playing sports. They learned how to be a team and how each individual is part of the whole. They truly learned how to play a new sport and most importantly they had fun. We even received national press coverage by the television crew who came down for SAFRA, highlighting the second match between the teams.
The teams were able to play each other two more times during the week of SAFRA. Each game was played with sportsmanship a true understanding of the game.
Sidina Aly did not resign himself to the SAFRA committee's decision of excluding lacrosse. After his and the Peace Corps insistence, the Director of Youth, from the capital, gave us the go ahead to hold a 2 minute exhibition game during the half time of a soccer match.
A thank you note to STX
Unfortunately, our team had to return to Ajar, leaving Selibaby kids to play the exhibition alone, but with pride. Afterwards, Sidina Aly, stated that these 2 minutes were more important to him than anything occurring the whole week of SAFRA. Numerous youth approached our teams, who proudly carried their sticks around with them, and demanded, "What is this?" "How do you play?" and "Can I play?". The teams would resoundingly state, "It's the sport of lacrosse, and of course you can play."
The players were treated as heroes and the thanks and huge smiles were a reward for all of us.
The SAFRA week eventually came to an end and the Ajar team was brought safely back to the village, as they chanted, "Rah, Rah Selibaby" the whole ride home.
Both teams plan to continue their practices in their villages. Sidina Aly hopes to incorporate lacrosse in the junior high and/or high school sports program. We plan to make traditional sticks with wood and search for a French edition of the rules of lacrosse. The children of Ajar and Selibaby, Sidina Aly, Peace Corps, Robyn Fink and I are extremely thankful to STX Lacrosse for this opportunity. Not only have we introduced the sport of lacrosse, but all of us have learned a vast amount from this experience. We will all hold this experience close to us forever.
The people, culture and climate of Mauritania
The Mauritanian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Great African Links from The University of Pennsylvania
The Peace Corps
West African food and recipes
Support African Lacrosse
Special Edition Wallpaper Download This self extracting zip file will automatically unload the Africa.bmp file into your c:\windows directory. Use your desktop properties menu to choose it as your wallpaper. MS Paint is a great way to set wallpaper up as well. Just open the image and save "as wallpaper".