Children sprint up and down beat up grass fields wearing hand-me-down jerseys and minimal equipment. The YouTube videos and images on social media show lacrosse is a sport still developing in Jamaica, but one with limitless potential.
Shakir Saunders ’07 is helping with that growth. Saunders, whose father and grandmothers are from Jamaica, is a “heritage player” for the Jamaican national team
, which finished 13th
in its debut at the recent FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Israel. He’s been working on getting equipment for youth players at the grassroots level in Jamaica.
Saunders is raising funds and has reached out to leading lacrosse companies like Maverik and East Coast Dyes who have donated equipment. Adidas provides the Jamaican national team with uniforms. The company gave cleats, elbow pads, gloves and more to help grow lacrosse in a country with a strong passion for sports. Saunders, along with some of his teammates from the national team, plan to visit the Jamaica in the near future and conduct clinics for young players.
Lacrosse has made real strides in Jamaica. According to a 2017 US Lacrosse Magazine article
, the grassroots movement for lacrosse began there in 2012. There were 14 high school teams (eight boys and six girls) last year.
“It’s been awesome to see it grow,” Saunders said. “Growing up in Maryland and playing in New England, lacrosse is big there. To see it grow somewhere where it didn’t exist a few years ago has been special. It’s a sport kids have found a true love for.”
A strong showing for Saunders and team Jamaica at the world championships should help generate even more interest. Jamaica finished 13th out of 44 teams in its first appearance at the event. Saunders missed the world championships with an Achilles injury, but enjoyed the experience.
Jamaica’s game against host Israel was featured on ESPNU. Saunders enjoyed seeing the culture and history of Israel and entering Netanya Stadium with the Jamaican flag. He also said Jamaica’s Adidas uniforms were the talk of the tournament.
“Interacting with other countries and see how they share the same love of lacrosse was a great experience,” he said. “It was an honor to be a part of the inaugural team and play for Jamaica because of my heritage.”
Saunders hopes to return to the field in February and represent Jamaica again at the 2022 World Championships in Canada.
Saunders lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and works as a talent acquisition manager at ZeroFOX.
He was a boarder from Bethesda, Maryland, and a four-sport varsity athlete for the Cats (soccer, basketball, track and lacrosse). Saunders met Steve Wheeler ’07 in 8th grade at Cheshire Academy. They quickly hit it off and became great friends. It was Wheeler who introduced Saunders to lacrosse.
“It’s nice to know that something we started out playing because we were best friends has become such a big part of his life, and he’s using it to make a difference in the lives of others.” Wheeler said. “It really speaks to his character.”
It took some time for lacrosse to grow on Saunders. As a freshman, he went to lacrosse tryouts and a few practices but switched to tennis. He ran track as a sophomore. Finally, he decided to give lacrosse a shot as a junior. He picked up the sport quickly and never looked back.
“He played for a couple of years and developed into a very good player,” said former lacrosse coach Bevan Dupre ’69. “I couldn’t be more pleased that he’s spreading the sport.”
Saunders, an athletic midfielder, went on to play at Elizabethtown College.
“It’s grown into a sport I love,” Saunders said. “And it’s helped open doors for me after college.”
Now he’s looking to pay it forward and help lacrosse grow in Jamaica.