Spring Break was more than beaches and theme parks for the varsity girls and boys lacrosse teams from Bishop Moore Catholic High in Orlando. It was an opportunity to put both their faith and athletic skills into practice. On March 30th, partnering with the Refugee Resettlement and Refugee Youth programs of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, lacrosse players and newly arrived refugees came together to share the sports they love.
“The idea was not only to hold a lacrosse clinic, but to understand the issue of refugees,” says girls varsity coach Kelly Blystone. “In the news, we only hear the bad stuff. We wanted our students to put a real face to the issue and understand that people are here in our community.”
Kicking off the event in prayer, Bishop Moore players taught refugee children and young adults, from countries like Iraq and Congo, some basic lacrosse skills of shooting, passing and catching, as well as demonstrated how those skills are used in a game. “It’s easy to connect to people through sports, to do a common thing,” says Bishop Moore junior, Christian DiPaolo. “It breaks the language barrier too. It was awkward at first because we couldn’t communicate, but when we started to teach them lacrosse, it was so much easier.”
The idea of a lacrosse clinic started months before and included a very successful school-wide Lenten collection of needed hygiene items for newly arrived refugees. “The collection of items was an important piece of this, but it was equally important that they meet the people whom they are serving,” says Amanda Livermore, Director of Mission Effectiveness for Bishop Moore. “We see what is happening with refugees, how it has become political; dehumanizing with sound bites. We want to bring it back to being about people; people who are in need. Our pope washed the feet of refugees on Holy Thursday, so what we are doing today is in line with our Church. It was great for the students to see that connection. ”
“It was really fun to try it. They taught me a lot. I would like to try it again,” says fifteen year old Maikel Merino, who came from Cuba with his family less than a year ago. Merino who did not speak English before he arrived, described his new life in the US, saying, “Everything has changed a lot. I can study and have goals. In Cuba, you cannot.”
Merino and other refugees, whose main sport has always been soccer, had a soccer scrimmage with some of the Bishop Moore players. “We brought out a soccer ball and everyone here knows how to play it,” recounted Charlie Rask, a junior at Bishop Moore. “This is an experience. Not every day can you interact with people from around the world; to interact together in a sport is really cool.”
“It is such a privilege for our refugees to be exposed to this kind of game,” says Carolina Toro, program manager of the Refugee Resettlement program at Catholic Charities. “It’s amazing to integrate our refugee youth with Bishop Moore students. There are no differences between them when they play. There’s no war, no social class, just kids that want to play and forget everything they have gone through.”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Cate Curry a Bishop Moore sophomore. “It can be scary coming to a new place. We want them to feel like it’s ok to try new things in a new place and that people welcome them. I’ve been hit with a water balloon and met a kid named Mohammed. It’s been so much fun.”