By Peter Schwartz
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Being a superstar athlete in New York comes with a lot of responsibility. There is the pressure of living up to the hype, the expectation of winning a championship, and a commitment to the community.
In a little over a year since being acquired from the Boston Cannons, Paul Rabil has already hit on all three.
After guiding the New York Lizards to the Major League Lacrosse title in his first season with the team, Rabil is also making his mark in the community. On Wednesday, he conducted a Lizards clinic with Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership at the Frederick Douglass Academy.
"I have some experience working with inner city programs in Baltimore with Charm City Youth Lacrosse and one of the agenda items that I had as a player now in New York was to do the same up here," Rabil said.
The former Johns Hopkins star midfielder, who is arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the college game, worked with about 40 kids from grades six through eight who are a part of a program that was born in 2008.
The mission statement for Harlem Lacrosse is to be a program that fights the cultural barriers set against inner city and low-income communities through lacrosse instruction, academic and behavioral instruction as well as college prep.
HLL Co-Founder Simon Cataldo introduced students to lacrosse in an effort to engage his most academically and behaviorally challenged kids. By 2011, the team grew to 35 students and HLL now operates eight programs in New York and Baltimore, serving more than 340 boys and girls.
It was a big thrill for the kids as they were able to learn from Rabil, who is considered by many to be the face of lacrosse. In return for running the clinic, Rabil was the recipient of a group of kids that were attentive and eager to learn.
"Frankly, it's some of the most authentic excitement that I get in any of the wide array of clinics that I've been a part of, hosted or made appearances at, because they're just very grateful for the opportunity," Rabil said. "They tend to be fairly enthusiastic about the sport."
By conducting the free clinic, Rabil and the Lizards showed their commitment to breaking down the financial and cultural barriers that the sport of lacrosse may present for inner city kids. Historically, lacrosse has been a sport played by athletes in upper class suburban communities. Given the cost of lacrosse equipment, giving these kids this kind of opportunity is vital.
"It's incredibly important," Rabil said. "It's one of our sport's biggest barriers to entry. The leadership group here with Harlem Lacrosse has done a terrific job with equipment and providing opportunity for kids after school to play the game."
Playing lacrosse has also made an impact on the kids in terms of education. They've maintained a 100 percent middle school graduation rate and they passed their classes at a rate 20 percent higher than that of their peers. Rabil said the sport of lacrosse tends to help an individual grow as a human being.
"We learn so many lessons playing team sports and having lacrosse being a part of that through the Harlem Lacrosse Leadership program is pretty exciting," said Rabil, the MVP of the 2015 MLL Championship game after posting three goals and three assists in the Lizards' 15-12 win over Rochester.
Rabil, who hails from Gaithersburg, Maryland, said he has enjoyed his first year-plus in New York. It has already been a rewarding experience with a championship playing for one of the league's original teams. All of the extra exposure has been great in terms of playing and everything else he does in the lacrosse world.
"I love it," Rabil said. "It's the media capital of the world and one of the sports capitals of the world. There's so much going on, so I've only begun to scratch the surface from a networking opportunity standpoint."
In addition to playing, Rabil is also an entrepreneur and an ambassador to the game of lacrosse. He has a successful line of lacrosse gear, hosts a radio show, runs his foundation that helps children with learning difficulties, and is a coach with Project Nine, the world's elite lacrosse training camp. But now in his eighth MLL season, Rabil is about to experience something new in his career.
This Saturday when the Lizards host Charlotte at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium, it will be "Paul Rabil Bobblehead Night."
"I've never had a bobblehead," Rabil said. "It's really exciting. The Lizards did an awesome job with it. Its fun and I love to see our league doing things like this to not only promote the players, but also to think creatively to get people to a game."
Perhaps some of the kids from Harlem Lacrosse that Rabil worked with at the clinic will come to the game and take home a reminder of the incredible experience that they were afforded on Wednesday. Rabil has meant so much to the game of lacrosse and his efforts with kids are a perfect example of that.
For more information on Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership, please visit their website.
Don't forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @LizardsLacrosse, @PaulRabil, and @HarlemLacrosse
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