Mia Ibrahim, CityLax Volunteer Coach and KIPP’s Academy Girls Varsity Lacrosse Coach, with teammates at the CityLax Southampton Shootout
Mia Ibrahim describes herself as “the nerdy dorky band girl” who became a music major and is now a music educator and clarinetist—but she’s also a CityLax lacrosse coach and the head girl’s coach at KIPP’s Academy. A true teacher, she started teaching clarinet lessons out of her garage in high school to the local neighborhood kids, and now balances her time between helping students learn how to play musical instruments in the classroom and coaching NYC girls in the game of lacrosse outside on the field.
Originally from Detroit, Mia moved to Davis, California before starting high school, which is where she first picked up the sport. She recalls, “One of my bandmates was really nervous to try out, so she asked if I could try out with her so she wouldn’t be alone on the field.” Mia’s friend ended up getting cut, while Mia made the team. She fell in love with the sport and continued on to play attack as a DII player at San Jose State University. After graduating, the SJSU coach quit during the middle of the season, so Mia offered to step in and help “keep the team afloat”— and thus began her first coaching experience.
Mia then moved to New York City to study Music Education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Shortly after, she began volunteering with CityLax. “I definitely wanted to give back to the community, but I’m also a good teacher and I enjoy teaching others and working with anyone (a kid or an adult) who is trying to develop themselves as a person, so CityLax seemed like a good fit,” Mia explains. “I doubted myself as a coach at first, because I have a very happy-go-lucky demeanor in my classroom, but then I realized that out on the field at CityLax, that actually worked to my advantage and that positive reinforcement really does have the same great effect on the field as it does in the classroom.”
Beyond her coaching approach, however, Mia still sees some very marked differences between her classroom at PS 29 and on the field at CityLax—“I want to push boundaries out on the field more so than in my classroom, because I think music-making is such a vulnerable experience, but lacrosse is a chance to really go for it, and just be 100 percent and not worry ‘oh they’re going to judge me for that note.’ In lacrosse, you drop a ball, you pick up a grounder—it’s a teamwork thing and you learn that it’s going to be fine no matter what.”
Other lessons that Mia hopes to convey to her student-athletes are to “be yourself, enjoy the sport, be proud, and have fun.” Being surrounded by teammates and coaches who were gay helped her to come out and to be proud of who she is. Mia says, “Even when I was closeted, just being around people who were like me made me feel comforted. And the sport itself helped, because it’s about being bold and being yourself and having fun. I also want my student-athletes to realize that they’ll get out what put in.” She recognizes that many of the girls she coaches have an ambition to explore horizons beyond the South Bronx, and so Mia strives to show how the skills they learn on the field can translate to academics and other areas of their lives. “I’m just excited to see how their character is built and how rigor shows in everything they do.”
Rhea Lyons, CityLax Volunteer Coach
Rhea Lyons, a midfield player from Littleton, Colorado, is the site captain and head coach of the Brooklyn CityLax Winter Clinics at James Madison High School. She loves literature and works in the publishing field. Rhea began playing lacrosse in middle school and continued throughout college at University of Rochester before moving to Brooklyn, where she joined the Central Lacrosse Club. Upon meeting Sabrina Alimi, another CityLax volunteer, Rhea was introduced to Doc’s and CityLax and became a volunteer coach for the CityLax Winter Clinics, where she has continued for the past nine years. Reflecting on her own experiences as a female student-athlete and professional, she strives to teach the girls at her clinics important life skills, such as teamwork. Rhea explains, “It’s really frustrating to see powerful women push down other women to succeed. I want to give the girls a sense of healthy competition and teach them what it means to be an athlete in a pure sense of the word—on the field, mentally, and in their regular lives, how to be competitive and push yourself but how to simultaneously pull up people with you.” Rhea believes these lessons will help both on the field in game situations, and in the classroom, such as when working on group projects or preparing for a ranked test. “As a volunteer, I feel like I’m in a position where I can help teenage girls come into their own and embrace their own power. I get to see them grow over the years, which is really inspiring.”
Chelsea Ruebling, CityLax Volunteer Coach
Chelsea Ruebling has been playing lacrosse so long she claims she learned how to cradle before she could walk. Her father, Chuck Ruebling, a long-time family friend of the Levines and supporter of CityLax, ensured that Chelsea would be a life-long member of the lacrosse community. After playing at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Chelsea moved to Australia to pursue a career in investment banking. When she moved back to New York, she and her brother started an organization called “Go, Fight, Win!” which supports different lacrosse organizations and players through funding, equipment drives, and organizing clinics, camps, and showcase tournaments. Chelsea knows firsthand the important balance of fun and working hard to develop skills, and puts a great deal of focus on developing her players’ skills so that they can grow their passion for lacrosse. Chelsea describes, “I feel very privileged that I have been able to volunteer with CityLax—I love going to the clinics on Sundays, especially while most of my friends are sleeping, and I just feel really fortunate that I have been able to be a role model and positive influence in so many girls lives over the years. The most rewarding thing for me is seeing someone through the full four years and how excited they are to say, ‘Coach, I got accepted to these colleges and this is what I’m going to do!’ when I knew them back as a freshman when they were trying to just get their feet beneath them.”
“What is important is not where someone starts, but what is done with the opportunities given to them.”
My name is Elianna Sanchez and I am currently a junior attending SUNY Oswego with a major in Wellness Promotion and a minor in Biology. During my three years at SUNY Oswego, I have been fortunate enough to play as a lacrosse goalie for the Women’s Lacrosse team.As I continue to grow, I can see how much lacrosse has developed my mind to focus on activities that align with my true self.
The first time I ever picked up a lacrosse stick was in 10th grade during a gym class at John Adams HS in Queens where my teacher was trying to recruit people for a new lacrosse team.During that time, my slim knowledge of the sport was solely based off of the occasional viewing of a T.V. show, which showed the main character as a lacrosse player. Overall, it was a foreign sport to me, but this opportunity sparked my curiosity and I was eager to try it. For the next couple of weeks I learned the basics of passing and catching during gym class. I automatically knew that I wanted to tryout but I was also very aware of my lack of running skills, so I decided to try out as a goalie. The first time I got suited up and played in cage was during tryouts for the first year lacrosse program at John Adams High School. I could not believe the immense pain that such a small rubber ball could cause! I was in complete shock and all I could think was, “What did I get myself into?” Although I was utterly unaware of the magnitude of responsibilities and mental toughness companioned with being a goalie, I did know that I wanted to continue getting better.
The first lacrosse goalie that I ever met in person and had the privilege to work with was Mat Levine, cofounder of Doc’s NYC Lacrosse and CityLax. CityLax provided the assist to start numerous lacrosse teams, including my own high school, and also provided free accessible clinics throughout the winter and summer where I had the opportunity to work with different coaches and volunteers to improve my skills. I believe that the lacrosse programs that have been started by CityLax have been so successful because of the wraparound approach that the organization stands by. It is an organization that helps tackle all different types of issues in order for individuals to succeed on and off the field through the connection of lacrosse. For example, that day during tryouts, I did not know that my teacher would not only become my remarkable lacrosse coach for the rest of my high school years, but would also become a phenomenal mentor and role model who would guide me with love and compassion into my adulthood. Nor did I know that I would discover a passion for a sport that electrified me and made me want to strive for excellence in all areas of my life. This pushed me to put in the extra hours to get better so that I could be the best player I could be and show that what is important is not where someone starts but what is done with the opportunities given to them. This newly found passion simultaneously pushed me to get my grades up so I could meet the team requirements and be eligible to continue playing. Due to these actions, I was later able to join a college team, keep growing as an athlete and guide younger goalies throughout their lacrosse journey. In addition, I was able to get into to science program that cultivated my love for the health field and is allowing me to work towards my dreams of pursuing medical school.
I want to say thank you on behalf of myself and every other athlete that has been strongly impacted by the opportunities given by CityLax. This would not be possible without the help of all its players, volunteers, staff and donors. CityLax has provided much more than the equipment and funding needed for a new lacrosse team; more importantly, it has provided mentorship for student-athletes that are unique to each individual. I can say that I can see myself as a Latina lacrosse player who takes pride in my journey, which would not be possible without the support and care from the astonishing people who make CityLax so successful. The love that I have for the organization makes me play with extra passion in my heart, as I play to represent every member that has made CityLax exceptional. Thank you for supporting CityLax and for taking the time to change lives!
-Elianna Sanchez, Class of 2020 (SUNY Oswego)
“You’re only as good as your last play.”
This advice from a high school lacrosse coach still guides Omar Alhagiko and pushes him to keep striving for more. Now a Division I lacrosse player at Wagner College, the CityLax alum is looking forward to graduating this spring with a double major in Finance and Economics. He hopes to enter the world of finance and continue to be involved with lacrosse, a sport that has greatly impacted his life and made him who he is today.
As a goalie, Omar particularly valued the CityLax Winter Clinics, where he was able to gain extra coaching and mentorship from the volunteer coaches who were post-collegiate players. “CityLax was the first opportunity where I got to play full contact over the winter and got coaching from former college players. I know this was especially helpful to the rest of my teammates, as well, because it was a chance for us to get up and get after it during the winter when we weren’t allowed to practice as a team.”
Omar recognizes the influence he has over younger players from Staten Island and the fact that many of these students need the lessons of lacrosse. He explains, “At Curtis, there are a lot of kids who are well off, and then there are a lot of kids whose parents have gone through a lot and this is their way of getting away from it all.” Omar regularly back to Curtis to help coach practices and inspire the younger student-athletes with his story. One of these student-athletes is Omar’s younger brother, Bader.
“It’s a bit tough having my older brother at the clinics,” Bader admits. “But it’s also nice because I know he comes from a good place and he wants to see me get better.”
Bader says that having Omar and his teammates help out at the clinics has been beneficial for the entire team, both in terms of lacrosse and academics. “Omar is a main factor of me keeping my grades up,” says Bader. “He shows me and the rest of our team that college lacrosse takes a lot of work, and that if we want to play in college, we’ve got to put in the work, both on and off the field.”
Omar also remembers his time at Curtis High School in Staten Island and the difficult transition to college lacrosse. “It’s a different ballgame when you’ve been playing the sport for only a few years and then you’re playing with kids who’ve played their whole lives. You have to work harder just to catch up, which is tough—but you remember why you started playing and why you love the sport. For me, I love the competition and being a part of a team, and the fact that as long as you put in the work, you can get better and stand out, even if you’re not the best natural athlete. It’s a unique sport because of that.”