Lacrosse for Special Needs Players Scores Big

Anthony and Savannah gear up for some lacrosse. Credits: Mike Cohen
Mike Nelson and his son at a clinic for lacrosse for children with special needs. Credits: Mike Cohen
Mike Cohen, director of Throwback Sports.

Editor's Note: Mike Cohen, a Westfield resident, freelance writer and director of Throwback Sports wrote this story about a lacrosse program on Long Island for people with special needs. Mike and Throwback Sports, which works with children with special needs, is looking to bring lacrosse for special needs kids to our area soon.

This article first appeared in Education Update.

Anthony, 25 years old, is down in the ready position with his lacrosse stick held upright. Then with a quick reverse pivot to break free from a defender, he catches the ball and begins his move to the goal, dodging around another defender, and splitting two more before it’s just Anthony and the goalie. In this case the goalie is Michaela, a high school volunteer who plays on her school lacrosse team. She has no chance to block Anthony’s bullet-like shot, which is perfectly placed in the upper right corner of the net for a score. As his coaches, teammates and fans cheer the play, Anthony’s already beaming smile becomes even brighter and wider.

Sign Up for E-News

“It makes me happy that he has something to live for,” said Anthony’s mother, Eileen. “Sports are his world. When he’s happy, I’m happy.”

For Anthony and the other participants who have special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and other disabilities, playing lacrosse has been a great outlet to learn a new game, overcome physical and cognitive obstacles and, perhaps most importantly, provide a much needed social environment for the players and their families.

“It’s the action,” said Eileen. “It’s the greatest thing for him. He looks forward to it. He likes to be on a team, the uniform, lining up at the end and shaking hands. Really, everything about it is exactly what he needs.”

The program is run by the Nassau County Police Activity League Special Needs Unit and runs throughout the winter months on Saturday mornings at the Levittown Memorial Sports Center. Participants can begin as young as age 5 and go into their 20s. Each session, which is run by professional coaches, consists of stick skills, fun fitness movements, modified game play and always with an emphasis on lots of fun and camaraderie. Mike Nelson is the county’s PAL lacrosse director who has also been credited with having developed the concept of lacrosse for special needs players on Long Island. Mike came up with the idea when his youngest son, now age 7, was diagnosed with a hearing disability as a toddler. Mike had been an avid lacrosse player himself, having played four years at Adelphi and then gone on to play professionally. Mike wanted to get his son involved in the sport.

“I was thinking about the other kids,” said Mike, who began the program roughly five years ago. “Their daily struggles and the things that the families have to go through. How can I help? What can I do to make a difference?”

The difference can begin immediately when the kids get to hold their first stick in their hands.  When a kid holds a stick, a bat or a ball there is a feeling of freedom and an outlet for pure play. For the players with special needs, lacrosse is no different. As they become more adroit at developing their stick skills, the game takes on more meaning. Running around scooping up balls, having catches with their friends and enjoying playing is what Mike envisioned when he thought about special needs lacrosse. Since the success Mike has had in Long Island, he has been asked to go to national conferences for special needs athletics to expand the program to other parts of the country.

“I’ve seen some unbelievable connections that children have made through lacrosse,” said Mike. “Kids that were shy and tentative in their own shell are now outgoing, not just here but in general, wherever they go.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Center for Hope Hospice Starts 2018 with $10,000 Donation from RSI Bank

February 18, 2018

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – RSI Bank, headquartered in Rahway, has been a long-time supporter of the Center for Hope Hospice, which offers hospice and palliative care in its two residences, in patients’ homes and other healthcare settings.

A generous donation from the bank has helped the Center start the year with $10,000 more in its Charitable Care Program, which enables those ...

Third Annual Rockin' For Autism Music Festival

All-day festival benefiting Autism New Jersey will feature local bands, food trucks, vendors, a merchant raffle, bake sale, obstacle course and lots of family fun! Join us for a day of great music, food, fun -- and help us raise funds and awareness for a great cause.

The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday. April 14, in LaGrande Park. 200 LaGrande Ave., ...

HOLD: Fellowship Helping Hands Receives Home Care Award

Fellowship Helping Hands, the home care agency operated by Fellowship Senior Living in Basking Ridge,  has received the 2018 Best of Home Care® – Provider of Choice Award from Home Care Pulse, announced Liz Fandel, vice president of Home Community Based Services at Fellowship Senior Living.

Fellowship Helping Hands is a New Jersey licensed home care service for older and ...

New Jersey Youth Symphony Announces Bring A Buddy Week March 4-8

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ—New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS) invites young musicians in grades 3-11 to attend open rehearsals for Bring A Buddy Week, March 4-8 at 570 Central Avenue in New Providence. Participating students will observe the first half of a rehearsal. Students can visit any ensemble based on their grade and experience level. Students who do not have a friend in an ensemble can still ...

Colleen Mahr Is The Leader Our Party Needs

February 13, 2018

Dear Editor:

My name is Patti Murgo. I am Committeewoman in Linden’s Eighth Ward. I am a life-long  DEMOCRAT, a party activist, and a believer in what being a democrat stands for. Last week, I received a piece of literature from our municipal chairman, Nick Scutari, regarding his “plans” for the County Democratic Party if he is elected county chairman.


No One Is More Qualified and Capable to be Our Next Democratic Committee Chair Than Colleen Mahr

Dear Editor:

Mayor Colleen Mahr has been a pillar of consistency in Union County for the last 20 years, having devoted her life to public service. There is no one more qualified and capable to lead us as our next Union County Democratic Committee Chair.

Colleen has mentored, coached and supported countless candidates running for office in Union County, all across our 21 ...

Chatham Borough Police Chief Crosson has Retired; Captain Gibbons is Acting Commander

February 12, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - Phil Crosson Jr., who has been a member of the Chatham Borough Police Department since 1992, retired from his position as the police chief on Feb. 1.

"It came on pretty quickly," Crosson said when reached by phone on Sunday. "I was on vacation for six weeks and I bought a business. I came back for one day and retired."

According to Crosson, ...

‘Reefer Madness’ Comes to Chatham Borough Council; Cannabis Advocates Make Pitch for Chatham Marijuana Shop

February 14, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - A group of pro-cannabis activists came to the Borough of Chatham Council meeting on Monday night and used the public commentary portion of the meeting to ask the council to support a marijuana dispensary in town.

The advocates, who say they have attended more than 80 town meetings to inform about the benefits of medical cannabis, mentioned the 1936 movie "Reefer ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, February 19

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Mon, February 19, 7:00 PM

Villagers Theatre, Somerset

Hairspray Auditions

Arts & Entertainment

Tue, February 20

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Wed, February 21

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Wed, February 21, 2:00 PM

New Providence Memorial Library, New Providence

The Underground Railroad Documentary

Arts & Entertainment

Thu, February 22

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Invest Like a Tortoise -- Not Like a Hare

Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a perfect metaphor for the way people go about investing their money. As you recall in the fable, the hare brags about his ability to beat the tortoise and is overly confident about winning. In the investment world, the hare is someone who thinks he or she is great at selecting “winners” and avoiding “losers.” The ...