“It meant a lot to me to have my teammates to lean on and to have the relationships that I was able to build through lacrosse.”
Jakub Iwon is the goalie for the CityLax-supported Murry Bergtraum Boys lacrosse team. Now a senior at Urban Assembly Maker (one of the four schools in the building that participate on the Murry Bergtraum team), this two-time captain has been the goalie since its establishment last year as a developmental program. While some people may be focused on the scoreboard to determine this season’s success, Jakub is interested in something else—“My goals are that we grow more as a team with each game, that we have more chemistry and communication throughout. We’re already looking better and better as the games progress, so I hope we continue to improve upon that.”
For Jakub, the importance of communication and teamwork goes beyond the field. Last year, only a few weeks into the season, Jakub’s mother passed away. After taking a week off, he decided to return to lacrosse and fully commit himself to the team. “It gave me something else to focus on and something to do after school that kept me from being depressed,” Jakub says. “A lot of people still don’t know about what happened outside of my teammates and close friends. It meant a lot to me to have my teammates to lean on and to have the relationships that I was able to build through lacrosse.”
Joining the lacrosse team provided even more than a new support system for Jakub. His teammates elected him to be a captain during the early stages of the program. As a junior who had never held any sort of leadership position before, Jakub was a little overwhelmed. “I wasn’t used to that kind of leadership. I’m not very vocal usually, but being a captain gave me a different perspective of things. More than just being a player on the team, I had to be a leader and show by example that if I show up and put in this much effort, they should match that.” This season, Jakub will be leading the team as captain, once again. He describes, “Knowing that my teammates elected me again, it shows me that they have trust in me and that I’ve gained their respect. They know that after what I went through last year and how I still stuck with the team and made an effort to learn everything that I could possibly learn about the game, I’m committed to the team.”
Jakub is now in his final semester at Urban Assembly Maker, and as part of hiscurriculum, he is assistant-teaching in a class with his coach, Jason Feldman. “It’s a fun hour to bond with my coach in a different environment,” Jakub says. Coach Feldman describes Jakub as a “rock” for the team due to his dedication and selfless attitude. “The first day, he volunteered to be the goalie when no one else would and he’s really taken on his responsibilities as captain; he’s someone the other players can look up to.”
After high school, Jakub will be pursuing a career in law enforcement. He says, “I want to do something good and help people in a positive way. I feel like there are a lot of stories out there about cops doing bad things, but I feel like if I can at least be that one percent that can do good, I should take the chance and go for it.” He will be studying criminal justice at John Jay University.
“Donors and volunteers of CityLax: Thank you for your leadership and support! It’s you who help us get one step closer to our goals and successful futures.”
Jahnazia “J” Williams is in the eleventh grade, currently attending the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science, located in the Bronx. Born and raised in Harlem, New York, J has lived with multiple foster families and has subsequently moved boroughs and schools throughout her first three years of high school. She was first exposed to lacrosse when CityLax held a clinic at Frederick Douglas Academy during her freshman year there. She describes herself as an open-minded person and credits this characteristic for how she initially got involved with lacrosse. “I wasn’t that familiar with the sport, but I decided to give the clinic a go and see how I liked it,” she explains. What she found, though, was more than just a sport—it was a family.
“At the CityLax Clinics, there was definitely a sense of community. It didn’t matter what your skill level was or whether you were a competitive player or not, we were all on the same ship,” J describes. “We were all impacted by lacrosse in ways that left us changed for the better.”
J quickly picked up the sport and began attending other CityLax programs, including the Summer Pick-Up Clinics at Pier 40, the Girls Fall Showcase Tournament Team, and the Winter PSAL Player Clinics. Her bubbly personality and high energy bring up her teammates and ensure that every practice is as fun as it is challenging. One of J’s favorite things to do is to incorporate her gymnastics skills while playing lacrosse (for instance, catching and passing the ball while simultaneously performing a full split). Through these experiences, she says she’s made “unbreakable bonds” with other kids from all over New York City and she believes the memories from playing lacrosse will always stay with her.
To J, lacrosse is more than just a hobby—“I see it as my whole life,” she says. “Each time I step onto a field, whether it’s on concrete (where I picked up my first stick) or a grass field, I know I am where I belong. The feeling knowing the ball is secure in my stick, of the breeze blowing through my braids as I run on the field—that feeling is completely amazing.”
Recently committed to play Division II lacrosse after graduation, J remains focused on her studies in addition to practice. She hopes to study business management in college because, as she says, “I’m going to start a nonprofit organization just like CityLax so that I can give other kids the same opportunities that I have.”
Most importantly, J would like to thank the donors and volunteers of CityLax; “If it wasn’t for Citylax I wouldn’t be where I am today so I thank you for your leadership and support. It’s you who help us get one step closer to our goals and successful futures. I want you all to understand the importance and the impact that you have on each and every one of our lives.”
As for us at CityLax—we want to thank J for the dedication and passion she brings to every CityLax event. We can’t wait to see the impact that she continues to have on her own community throughout the rest of high school and eventually as the founder of her own nonprofit.
“Because of CityLax, I’ve met amazing teammates that are going to be my lifelong friends.”
Ella Braunstein is in the eleventh grade at the United Nations International School, or UNIS. A middie and attack player, she loves the fast pace of the game and the opportunities to run and score. Most importantly, though, she loves the community of lacrosse. “We didn’t have a lacrosse team at my high school, so I started playing for CityLax in the fall of my freshman year and now I’m also doing the winter clinics,” Ella explains. While she was a bit scared at first to join a team of mostly seniors, she says that she learned a lot from playing with her older teammates. “I’ve really enjoyed playing with CityLax—I’ve never had a bad teammate and all of my coaches have been amazing and just so supportive and motivational.”
At UNIS, Ella is fascinated by her science classes and is studying hard to go to college and eventually medical school. She says, “I want to be a doctor because I really like helping people and I really like biology, so I think being a doctor would be a good way to combine those two passions.” She is involved in a variety of after-school clubs, including OxFam, UNIS United Nations, and Girl Power, which have taught her a lot about nonprofits and how to create positive change in her community. She’s also planning to start a lacrosse club to bring her favorite sport to her colleagues. Ella explains, “Lacrosse is really important to me because it’s taught me how to be a team player. When I began playing in middle school, I started out as someone who really didn’t know how to play on a team or pass the ball, but now I’m confident in my teamwork skills. Because of CityLax, I’ve also met amazing teammates who are going to be my lifelong friends.” After graduation, she hopes to play ball at some level in college, but right now, she’s looking forward to reuniting with her fall teammates at the Manhattan Winter Clinics and continuing to develop her skills.
Standing in the frigid cold under the lights of the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl Half Time Ceremony, Isa Khan couldn’t help but laugh. At that moment, Isa was being recognized as a recipient of the prestigious MVP Scholar Athlete Award for his accomplishments as a student and a lacrosse player, something he had never imagined possible. In fact, his middle school soccer coach once told him and his teammate that they would never make it as athletes. Over four years later, Isa and that very teammate were standing together as they were honored with the PSAL’s highest award. Isa recalls that moment during the ceremony: “We saw each other and just started laughing, because there we were a few years later, both of us on the Yankee Stadium field, being honored for our athletic achievements. But looking back, I think that comment is what drove me to be a better athlete.”
Every year, each high school in the five boroughs of New York City nominates one boy and one girl student-athlete as candidates for the NYC PSAL’s highest honor, the MVP Scholar Athlete Award. Out of over 10,000 student-athletes in the PSAL, 55 are chosen for their outstanding academic and athletic achievements. These student-athletes must also exemplify the values of the PSAL, including preparation, discipline, leadership, team spirit, community, and scholarship. This year, one of those chosen student-athletes was Isa Khan, a CityLax member who attends James Madison High School.
For CityLax Founder, Mat Levine, the news of Isa Khan’s recognition held special significance for him. Isa Khan is the first CityLax player to receive the MVP Scholar Athlete Award, a nod to how far the nonprofit organization has come since its establishment in 2006. Levine says, “Isa is a shining example of what CityLax stands for. He is passionate about the game and his academic future. He has been an ardent participant in Citylax/PSAL lacrosse programs over the last two years, propelling him toward his goal to graduate with a strong academic record and gain acceptance to colleges of his choice. To see a young man utilize lacrosse and its educational opportunities given by CityLax’s programs at the very same high school where my family has roots is a special feeling for me.”
Not only is Isa a talented lacrosse player and excellent student, he’s also a driven and compassionate member of his community. Isa is the Student Union Vice-President at James Madison and is also the leader of the Health & Wellness Committee of his district’s Youth Leadership Council. As Team Leader, Isa oversees the inter-borough group of students and is working to improve the health and wellness curricula in NYC public schools. “At the moment, only a very small fraction of our health classes cover mental health, even though it should really be given equal weight to physical health and nutrition,” Isa explains. “So, part of what we’re working on is a plan to revamp the curriculum by balancing the content 50-50 for physical and mental health.” The students meet regularly with each other and then propose their ideas to the Board of Education, which intends to use the students’ input to shape policies for the NYC public school system. Through this program, the students are able to have a real impact on their community, something that Isa strives to do in every aspect of his life.
On the field, Isa is dedicated to becoming the best player that he can be. A natural leader, he is eager to take advantage of every opportunity to help strengthen his team, including regularly organizing off-season practices for his teammates. He credits CityLax with helping him to become the athlete that he is today. “I honestly could never have been where I am as an athlete or a lacrosse player if it wasn’t for CityLax,” Isa says. “CityLax gave me the basics, rolling out clinics that kept me in shape and playing during the off-season. And then, when I was ready to take it to the next level, they helped provide that, too.” This past summer, Isa attended the MetroLacrosse SummerBounce Camp through a CityLax athletic scholarship. He claims that this experience was a pivotal moment in his lacrosse career, because it was there that he learned how to face off from MLL star, Casey Dord. Isa discovered he had a knack for the face-off and has since been working to perfect his skills during the off-season so that he can enter the spring as a FOGO. “If it weren’t for CityLax,” he recalls, “I never would’ve gone to that camp and realized that I’m a really good FOGO.”
A true team player, Isa is excited about what receiving this award means for James Madison lacrosse. When asked how he felt to be honored as a PSAL MVP Scholar Athlete, Isa replied, “It means a lot to me to be chosen out of thousands of student-athletes and among players who are probably the best in the city. To just have been nominated…I have a lot of hope for my team that we’re getting better and better. I’m happy to see such an achievement after all the hard work these past few years.”
As Isa gets ready for his final high school lacrosse season and thinks back on how far he’s come since his middle school soccer days, he says, “I guess the lesson is just never give up on the dream that you want. Never give up on the ‘you’ that you want to become.”