SL Interview: Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite on Lacrosse in Urban Denver

The sport of lacrosse has long been stereotyped as preppy and suburban — code words for, “Lacrosse is almost exclusively white.” Indeed, while U.S. Lacrosse supports efforts to increase minority participation, through funding of the BRIDGE [Building Relationships to Initiate Diversity, Growth and Enrichment] and the First Stick programs, the sport continues to lag among minority youth. recently reported that, “In 2009-10, less than 10 percent of the student-athletes playing NCAA lacrosse were black, according to the most recent NCAA Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Report. That statistic carries over to both men’s and women’s lacrosse in Divisions I, II and III.”

At the grassroots level, several individuals and groups have worked to improve the situation. In Denver, a fledgling hotbed of lacrosse, elementary school teacher Erik Myhren decided to bring lacrosse to the city’s public school system in 2008. With a crew of volunteer coaches and equipment donated by U.S. Lacrosse, Myhren held tryouts and fielded a team of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders to challenge the region’s established youth squads.

Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, a Denver native, returned to her hometown to chronicle the first season of Myhren’s program, known as City Lax. Her documentary, also titled “City Lax,” follows the kids as they learn the basics of the game, take on Denver’s suburban powerhouses, and cope with the daily challenges of life in the inner city.

The film has made the festival circuit, winning the audience and best documentary awards at the Sonoma International Film Festival. It has aired on ESPNU and is available on Video on Demand via Sportskool.

SportsLetter spoke with Gabriela Cowperthwaite after a recent screening of the film at her alma mater, Occidental College, in Los Angeles.

— David Davis