During my sophomore and junior years of college, I woke up each day for a 6 a.m. lacrosse practice that had no coach. In a typical lacrosse game, there are 12 players from each team on the field. Our first game last season, there were only nine of us.
Once, in the heat of battle, one of my teammates got called the N-word.
These are the conditions you face when you are a member of the nation’s only African-American college lacrosse team.
Needless to say, playing lacrosse for Howard has been a challenge. But given what our team’s efforts to integrate the lily-white sport symbolize, it’s been mostly a privilege.
But, you say, “hold on. I'm lost. Since when does Howard University have a women's lacrosse team?”
That’s the question I get from surprised strangers whenever I wear my Howard lacrosse sweatshirt or T-shirt. I understand the image of 12 black girls on a field with sticks, throwing around a ball may be a little difficult to digest. That is why I am always happy to answer and share a little bit of our history.
In the mid-‘90s, two Howard women, Jennifer Brown and Monique Richards, had a vision of an all-black lacrosse team. In 1998, what began as a club sport became the first Division I women's lacrosse program at a historically black college or university. It is because of Richard and Brown's vision that I and other Howard women have this unique opportunity.
Despite notable black lacrosse players like Jim Brown, who some consider to be the greatest lacrosse player of all time, throughout the years the sport has been dominated by white athletes. There are few black players on the rosters of top lacrosse schools like Princeton University, Duke University and the University of Virginia, but at Howard, we are all we have.
I came to Howard, first and foremost, because it is the school that I thought would be best for me academically. But Howard has given me the opportunity to experience something that I would have never had the chance to experience had I gone to a majority white school.
This is my final season before I graduate, and we have a lot to build on and look forward to. Most of Howard's sports teams compete in the Middle Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) with other HBCUs. But because no other MEAC schools have lacrosse teams, for 11 seasons we have competed independently without a conference. Last season, we proudly took our place at the National Lacrosse Conference and competed in its inaugural conference tournament.
Last year, the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association recognized the need for diversity when they launched there Identify, Recruit and Mentor Program. The program is designed to get more minorities involved in the game.
Our current coach, Jessica Morgan, is one of those minorities. When she took over, she became one of only three active black women's lacrosse coaches in Division I. (The other two are Bryant University coach Karen Healy and University of California at Davis coach Elaine Jones.) Just knowing this makes me appreciate her for the sacrifices that she makes for the team. Her passion for the game is evident, and she really believes that she was put on this earth to coach Howard lacrosse.
We may be in the rain, soaking wet and freezing, but Coach Morgan keeps pushing us until she gets what she wants. We are in a constant fight to prove to ourselves and to others why Howard University should even have a women's lacrosse team.
But as much as I take pride in the fact that we are the only black women's lacrosse team, I still think it’s unfortunate. It means that we are not just playing for ourselves and our team, but also the whole race. We will always have the bragging rights to be called the first, but I hope some time really soon that we will no longer be the only.
Eboni Farmer is a writer and intern for The Root.