SAINT PAUL, Minn. – It started four years ago as a lacrosse camp. Now, it’s changing lives.
The Minnesota Swarm’s fourth annual Lax-4-Life Camp, a weeklong lacrosse camp for Native American boys and girls, concluded last week on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Northern Minnesota. Nearly 50 kids from seven tribal communities attended this year’s camp, which was presented by the Minnesota Army National Guard and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Supporting partners of the camp include the University of Minnesota, Nike N7 and Lax-4-Life co-founders Clint Letch and Bryan Bosto.
“Our original vision was to bring lacrosse back to the Native reservations throughout Minnesota and really educate kids on where it came from and the cultural aspect of the game,” Swarm co-owner and Lax-4-Life co-founder Andy Arlotta said. “After the first year, we realized that this camp was about more than just bringing lacrosse back. It was more importantly about how we could help these kids get to the next level in life, whether that be graduating from high school or getting into college. In some cases, this camp is really saving some lives.”
This year’s camp was highlighted by a special visit from Minnesota Army National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, who flew from the Twin Cities in a Black Hawk helicopter to witness the camp in person.
"We have a vested interest in youth," Nash said. "We're up here talking about leadership, life skills and being role models in the community - that's something the National Guard can help with."
It was a powerful sight to see for those in attendance, as the Black Hawk helicopter landed only a few hundred yards away from the camp’s playing field. Campers and community members alike stood in awe when the helicopter roared to the ground.
“To have the General come up and visit this community and this camp, and pretty much put his seal of approval on the camp, sends a strong message that he likes what he sees here and that he agrees with what he sees here,” said Bosto, who is a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “That tells the community that there is a great program coming out of the Fond du Lac community, and not just for Fond du Lac, but for all the tribal communities that showed up.”
WCCO-TV reporter Mike Max also joined Gen. Nash on the helicopter ride and produced a story that aired on the 10 p.m. news last weekend (Click Here for the story). Max will also air a feature piece on Lax-4-Life later this fall on his show, Sports to the Max.
Campers received professional lacrosse instruction from Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines, forward and Nishga tribe member Corbyn Tao and the Swarm’s all-time leading goal scorer Ryan Benesch. Meg Herlofsky, head coach of Hamline’s Women’s Lacrosse Club, was on hand to provide special coaching for the female campers.
“Camps like this are extremely important,” Tao said. “It helps give the kids a sense of direction and an opportunity to see that lacrosse can help take you to the next level.”
Off the field, the camp featured classroom sessions from the Minnesota Army National Guard on topics such as resiliency, risk reduction, nutrition and suicide prevention (R3SP). The Minnesota Army National Guard also provided campers with fun activities such as a rock climbing wall and an obstacle course.
Tribal communities that were in attendance this year included Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Prairie Island Indian Community, Oneida Nation, White Earth Nation, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Navajo Nation and Red Lake Nation Band of Chippewa.
Each year, Lax-4-Life culminates with its annual Game for The Creator, where campers participate in a scrimmage to showcase their lacrosse skills and honor The Creator.
“It’s amazing to see the older campers who have come back the last three or four years and watch them help out the younger ones,” Bosto said. “They’re doing exactly what we’ve been telling them all along: You’re a family here and help each other out. They’re listening and you can’t be more proud of them.”
Lax-4-Life has received national recognition from the Obama Administration for its efforts in promoting healthy lifestyle choices for Native American youth. Last year, Bosto was recognized at the White House as a Champion of Change for his work in bringing lacrosse back to his community, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
“The way that this camp has evolved from Year One is just tremendous,” Arlotta said. “With the support of the Minnesota Army National Guard, and with more boys and girls in attendance each year, it’s really a special sight to be seen.”