By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, gray@afro.com

Despite its perception as a suburban sport played mostly by White athletes, Black players and teams are finding more than just a niche in lacrosse.  In Prince George’s County, players are picking up the game at an early age and its beginning to show up on the field.

After years of talented athletes gravitating to sports, then being forced to compete at an elite level in high school at private schools in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, Bowie High School is changing the narrative about the quality of play in the D.C. suburbs.  They finished the season 14-2 and beat Northwestern 9-7 to win the regional championship in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSA) 4-A playoffs.

Bowie High School Lacrosse Team made it to the Maryland State 4-A semifinals before losing to the Howard Lions. (Courtesy Photo)

The quiet chatter in lacrosse circles has been that White coaches would like to have more Black “athletes” from other sports pick up their game.  Even if the athlete had never played before, the mindset would be to teach them lacrosse skills to blend with the athleticism and the results would be the type of players that are helping schools like those in Prince George’s County become contenders for state championships.

However, the access to training and offseason programs to development has been a long time coming.  When a region is dominated by football and basketball talent, offseason skills development are challenges for lacrosse athletes, and the reasons are less than financial. Nonetheless, the level of athlete and the access to the game are making lacrosse an entertaining brand to watch with teams now mastering the art of attacking.

But as is the case in all team sports the offense sells tickets and the defense wins championships.  That’s what separated Bowie and Northwestern from the rest of Prince George’s County’s teams this season.  When it mattered most, it was the defense that was buoyed by the athleticism, which made the difference.

During the regular season, and until their loss in the state semifinals, Bowie’s only blemish was an 8-6 home loss to Roosevelt.  Their resilience and growing talent base fueled the run to within two games of playing for a state championship, and it was especially on display when they advanced in the state semifinals.

Bowie’s tempo and pressure was the difference in their postseason run started against Eleanor Roosevelt. The Bulldogs were able to sustain the momentum all game by pressing the pace on both the offensive and defensive side of the field. Offensively, their relentless attacks of the defense midfielders shaped the direction of the game from the start.

DuVal Harrell anchored their defensive midfield that contained an explosive Roosevelt offense.  He was key to their attack oriented defense that yielded more than 10 goals only once this year.  In conference play, Bowie on Roosevelt scored as many eight against their defense. City College of Baltimore lit the lamp nine times – the most any team would score against the Bulldogs to open the season in March – and the season of the “D-Block Defense” was born.

 In their semifinal victory over the Bulldogs, offense exploded in their 17-8 rout of Roosevelt.  Offensively, there were major contributions from Hashim Gafney who scored five goals with three assists. Tyson Cardoso and Kobie Johnson combined for six goals and two assists. Jeremiah Parrish also scored three goals.

 After outscoring Flowers and Roosevelt 25-8 in their first two playoff games, Northwestern held them to nine but it wasn’t enough as the “D-Block” did just enough to help them win the region with a 9-7 win.

Howard, ended Bowie’s season with a 15-2 loss in the Maryland 4-A semifinals.