Lacrosse continues to be one of the fastest-rising sports in the state of Rhode Island, as well as many other areas in the country. Cranston in particular, has become one of the most lacrosse-heavy cities in the state and has seen the number of participants grow from the youth level all the way to the collegiate game.
Although lacrosse has become so popular over the past few years in Cranston, many locals have struggled to afford the oft-expensive equipment that comes along with the sport.
In an effort to raise funds for the Cranston Youth Lacrosse program, coach Pete Kelleher reached out to Ocean State Job Lot to inquire about possible donations such as concessions that could then be sold at games. Days later, Ocean State Job Lot would present an offer to Kelleher that was far beyond his original hopes.
“We called Ocean State Job Lot and asked if they had any water or Gatorade, any snacks that we could sell on the sidelines. What they said was, ‘No, but we may have some equipment. Why don’t you guys come down to the warehouse and take a look.’ I went down to the warehouse with one of the board members, took a little walk and around a corner there were nine pallets and they told us, ‘The nine pallets are yours,’” said Kelleher. “They were over-the-top generous. It was very unexpected and very cool at the same time. A sport like lacrosse is expensive like hockey, not a lot of inner cities have programs. Just getting the equipment to start off is about 300 dollars. About 80, almost 90 percent of our players were coming from the affluent side of town but the others couldn’t afford it.”
From there, word quickly spread throughout the Cranston lacrosse community.
Cranston High School East began its program back in 2013 and was given a donation from US Lacrosse as a startup program. US Lacrosse provided the team with two years’ worth of equipment but nearly five years later it as time for an upgrade.
“When I heard Ocean State Job Lot was getting rid of the equipment I called up myself and asked, ‘who’s getting the lacrosse stuff?’ They had me come down to the warehouse and told me I could have whatever I wanted, I ended up with 12 pallets. This could last up to 10-15 years,” said Matt Davis, who helps coach at Cranston East as well as at the youth level.
With 12 pallets and over 140,000 dollars-worth of equipment, the giving continued as Davis had the local teams come by and pick up brand-new gear for next season.
“This donation couldn’t have come at a better time, it was huge for our program,” said Davis. “You would have thought it was Christmas time here, a bunch of the girls came down and were picking up gloves, sticks, goggles, they were ecstatic. You thought you were seeing a bunch of 8 and 10 year olds at Christmas opening presents. It was like we hit the jackpot.”
Soon after, even more local teams and clubs sought help, including the YMCA, and the donations have now reached a total of 28 pallets and over 350,000 dollars-worth of gear.
Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation executive director David Sarlitto helped organize the donations and was excited to give a helping hand.
“Like anything, it started with a deal. One of our buyers bought hundreds of pallets of top-end lacrosse gear. We recognized that there were a lot of people that played lacrosse here and we recognized the brands, this was top-end stuff. We put it in the stores at the beginning of the season, then after Peter Kelleher asked me if we would be willing to donate and of course we were,” said Sarlitto, who was also surprised at how large the Rhode Island lacrosse community actually was. “To be honest, I hadn’t appreciated the interest in lacrosse in the area. I didn’t realize the amount of lacrosse in Rhode Island and as this started happening it started to pop up all over the place. It ended up working out and we’re happy to help the local leagues.”
Sarlitto has also enjoyed his time getting to know the Cranston community, and says that helping is part of the Ocean State Job Lot mission.
“It’s been fantastic, they all know each other and there’s a common tie in lacrosse. These are a bunch of guys that have a passion for the sport and they have other jobs, they do this and volunteer their time. In a small state like Rhode Island it’s great to see everyone connect and the hub of lacrosse is Cranston,” said Sarlitto. “We want to be a community player. When we open up a store it isn’t just to sell things, we want to show values and we want to help people. We feel that when you open a footprint in a town that you have an obligation to help support it in any way you can. You’re a neighbor, we’re happy to help.”
Not only have the donations helped provide current players with equipment, it has already attracted new faces to the sport.
“We were able to draw another 30 players that wouldn’t have even been able to try. It’s not so much relief for the players that are there as much as it’s a relief for the new players that no longer need to come up with that startup money. We opened up registration and got a nice group of kids. We’re trying to open a sport that many communities don’t have or are not aware of,” said Kelleher.
Davis also feels that having top-notch equipment will help the players’ confidence moving forward.
“The confidence level is going to raise because they’re getting brand-new equipment, this is all top of the line stuff. I used to buy my kid’s equipment (at Ocean State Job Lot) because its great equipment. A lot of the stuff that came in was Reebok,” said Davis.
With so much gear to go through, members of the community have also sold some of it at cheap prices to raise money for local players trying to afford college. Kelleher believes that perhaps the biggest plus side of the donation is that it will only help local athletes graduate high school and attend a university.
“It opens the door to colleges that many of these players may have never heard of. You have these Division III and Division II schools that they haven’t heard of but suddenly they’re getting offered a little bit of money to play a game,” said Kelleher. “If we are able to open up that door for a kid that can’t afford it, then we’ve done our goal.”