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OWLS Storyboard: MLK Day Tradition is Born

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This week the Academy program continued it’s college tour with a special MLK Day visit to our friends at Notre Dame. Students toured campus with members of the Black Student Association, watched the Men’s Lacrosse and Basketball teams practice, and connected with Notre Dame students in an MLK inspired dialogue!

OWLS kids from across the city spent the day with Domers from Notre Dame’s Black Student Association.

Lunch with Notre Dame BSA students…

Very cool to see Coach Brey do his thing first hand during the Men’s Basketball practice experience!

The fellas had a special visit to watch our partners on the Men’s Lacrosse team do their thing at the Loftus Center!

After their practice, the Lacrosse team joined us at the mesmerizing Arlotta Stadium facilities. Players broke into groups to talk about lax, life, and MLK Day! Here’s one of our Academy crease attackman Jaylen speaking with one of the nation’s best at the same position, Mikey Wynne!

OWLS Academy Fall ’17

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We are excited about the progress of our participants in the OWLS Academy program this fall. Academy pulls students from our OWLS inner-city school sites to provide exciting academic, enrichment, and lacrosse opportunities year-round.

September: OWLS Academy Box Training

Academy utilizes our outdoor box at Garfield Park for small group training. Box training provides all ability levels with a high repetition approach on passing, catching, spacing, and cutting.


September: Service-Learning Scholars

Notre Dame Men’s Lacrosse alum Liam O’Connor and Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse alum Nancy Dunbar lead our Saturday Scholarship Support Program. OWLS Service-Learning Scholars meet every other week to work on goal setting, local service projects, and selective enrollment school scholarships. OWLS Academy participants kicked the program off in September with a round-table discussion on community-building, then broke into groups for school clean-up, equipment inventory, and scholarship application work.


October: Glenbrook South Teambuilding Camp

In October we continued our annual tradition with Coach Jeffrey and the Glenbrook South Titans Lacrosse program. OWLS Academy students took a bus to the GBS campus for a series of team-building challenges that promote positive communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. Special thanks to our Titan family for the continued support (and big bag of 50 Chick Fila sandwiches for the ride home!).


October: Academy Tours Beloit College in Wisconsin!

Thank you Beloit College Men’s Lacrosse and Coach Rashad Devoe for hosting our student-athletes! We toured the campus, learned about real academic access opportunities through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion…and had a blast with Buc Nation in the athletic facilities! #GoBucs


October: Garfield Park Conservatory Trip (VIDEO)


November: Elmhurst College Visit and Live Practice with the Jays!

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The OWLS Academy College Tour continued with Elmhurst College Men’s Lacrosse! Special thanks Coach Morrell and Coach Rosiek for organizing and executing an incredibly impactful experience. Our student-athletes engaged in a comprehensive tour of campus, participated in a simulated practice, and took in a lecture on the nuts and bolts of the college recruiting process! #GoJays


November: Fall Finale at the Evanston Dome

Special thanks Evanston Youth Lacrosse Association for hosting the OWLS Academy “Fall Finale” at the Quad Sports Dome! We had an incredible turnout for “peace games” and community building…huge shoutout to the EYLA and ETHS Wildkit staff for leading the way!


OWLS Storyboard: Playing for Peace 2017

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Just as every kid is different, the OWLS “Experience” is multi faceted and dependent on the unique circumstances of our participants. Our new Academy program provides year-round participants with an intensive menu of options for higher level lacrosse training, scholarship access, academic enrichment, and opportunities to travel. Learn-to-Play and OWLS League introduces the game to boys and girls after-school while providing inner-city schools and park districts with a resource rooted in quality sports based youth development practices. One constant has been Playing for Peace. The sixth annual Playing for Peace took place last Friday, October 13th at Garfield Park Sports Fields.

The Playing for Peace Initiative with Notre Dame Men’s Lacrosse started as a very small profile get together with OWLS, and has grown into a multi-school 100+ participant event. The focus of “Playing for Peace” is to publicly display how the OWLS organization can help strengthen the many communities of Chicago through peaceful play. The day included stations led by OWLS staff, Under Armour, Parisi Speed School Chicago, Adventures Accessed, Era Sports and of course Notre Dame players/coaches. Students participated in team-building with police officers and military veterans, peace projects, lacrosse games, fastest shot, live music, BBQ, and closed with a friendly West Side vs South Side scrimmage…

The following photo storyboard outlines the day that was Playing for Peace 2017!

OWLS Blog: The Importance of ‘Turning the Map Around’ by Taylor Harris

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Recently, I traveled south for a family event and looked back towards the city as I usually find myself doing. There’s something about Chicago that takes my breath away every time; maybe it’s the architecture, Midwest tradition, and progressive culture all blended together. Regardless- as I looked upon the shrinking city skyline, something seemed out of place that I couldn’t quite place. After looking more intently and searching for the missing answer, it finally dawned on me what was amiss. From the moment I came to Chicago in 2015, the Willis [formerly Sears] Tower was always on the right as I looked south upon the city skyline. Only this time, as I traveled south and looked back upon the city, the Willis Tower being on the left jarred my sense of the city I thought I knew…

While some may scoff at this realization as something minor or trivial, to me it instantly reminded me of a key lesson I learned very early on in my military training that cemented a huge part of the person I am today. The perspectives we all have are deeply important and valid, and looking north upon the city reminded me the importance of viewing the world from varying standpoints.

*    *    *     *     *

The breeze through the woods in Quantico, Virginia cooled the sweat-drenched Marine officers-in-training on a humid summer night. The watches on each Marine’s wrist read slightly after 2am, and they had just finished a several hour foot patrol through the northern Virginia military training area searching for an “enemy force” that was assuredly not awake.  Eager for rest, the Lieutenants  huddled under a camouflaged poncho, and mapped out the rest plan on a small waterproof notebook lit red by the army flashlight held above.

80 minutes later…..



The weary Marine Lieutenants scrambled awake to the alert from their peer sentry on guard. Reflective of this units’ naivety, Marines wasted valuable time as they scrambled around figuring out on the fly what positions to assume, instead of returning accurate and decisive fire to repel the attacking force. Confused seconds turned into fateful minutes, as the attacking force overwhelmed the young Marine officers and won the simulated battle. In that moment, on a small isolated hill in the dead of night, the leader of the young Marine officers commanded the silence by saying, “ENDEX- After action debrief here in 5.”

Dejected and exhausted, the officers gathered together at that very point one minute later so as not to anger their officer instructor further. Captain S was an Iraq War veteran who led his Marines through months of heavy fighting in some of the most kinetic areas of the country. He epitomized the ideal officer instructor: someone who had seen battle and could properly train the next generation. He was a soft spoken individual who said more with his 6’3 NFL linebacker-built frame than he ever did with his mouth, and he towered over the Lieutenants in silence as they prepared for his worst.

“You all failed to turn the map around,” he stated simply. “You all failed to turn the map around, anticipate, and plan properly. The result of this inaction is that you are all now defeated, and they will live on. Sgt A [ leader of the attackers] what debrief points do you have?”

Sgt A emerged from behind Captain S, camouflaged with face paint and dirtied from head to toe. Assuming position in front of the Marine officers, he calmly told them what he saw. “We were following you all during your foot patrol at a distance. Once you arrived at your tentative patrol base at approx 0200, we assessed that you began an active rest plan due to the limited presence of security and lack of active patrols. At approximately 0330, we identified a gap in your defense on this side [pointing to a side of the hill they were all standing on], and launched a platoon sized attack which culminated here.”

As Sgt A spoke, every Marine officer was awestruck by the impeccable professionalism of the Marine that was debriefing them. His skillful use of the language they were learning, coupled with his tact to not brow-beat the Marine officers who stood before him humiliated by their tactical mistakes, made him immediately and universally respected. The officers hung on every word he said, and the message came across loud and clear- Sgt A’s platoon attacked successfully because they carefully considered what the officers were thinking, feeling, and doing.

“Thank you Sgt A,” whispered Capt S. “Carry on with your plan of the day.”

“Roger that Sir,” replied Sgt A, as he escaped into the night with his platoon of enlisted instructors.

Capt S again turned toward our crestfallen group, and addressed us that early morning for one final time. “Failure to turn the map around equates to a critical failure of fully understanding the problem. When we say ‘turning the map around,’ we literally mean assuming the perspective of others. Doing so allows you to see your own weaknesses and assumptions, while also broadening your insights. To truly win this fight we are in now [Iraq/Afghanistan], we must fully appreciate the way the map looks from the other side.”

As my mind transitioned back from the Quantico highlands to the Chicago skyline, my thoughts centered on OWLS and our kids. So many of our kids grow up seeing the Willis Tower on the left, which has far more reaching effects than just their view of the city. The simplest of tasks made harder through the environments that surround their daily lives. And so many still don’t quite understand the work we are doing to expand our programming to provide the best options for our predominantly at-risk youth.

Many families across Chicago, like me, view the city skyline from the northern vantage and see ample lacrosse opportunities all around them, and a thriving lacrosse culture. They sadly don’t see the difficulties our players trudge through just to throw a ball around amongst friends. They can’t see the obstacles our players overcome to have lacrosse gear they call their own. And finally, through no fault of their own, they certainly haven’t seen the map of Chicago lacrosse turned upside down.

I hope that my story above fundamentally challenges how we view the state of lacrosse in Chicago, and more importantly, energizes us all to turn the map around as we approach growth in the game of lacrosse. OWLS seeks to create opportunities for growth and development in our players through scholarship, service, and lacrosse. We are hoping that our continued efforts in expanding lacrosse in the most at-risk areas of Chicago will not only force people to see the map from our direction, but will fundamentally change the way the map is drawn.


Taylor Harris currently serves as the League Director and Director of Coaches/Officials Training for OWLS. Prior to joining OWLS, Taylor worked on the nationally recognized collegiate lacrosse staffs at Northwestern University (women) and Tufts University (men). Taylor also served six years in the United States Marine Corps as both an intelligence officer and scout sniper platoon commander. In those six years he deployed three times, once to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). He played collegiately at the United States Naval Academy from 2003-2006, and is originally from Clifton, Virginia. Taylor holds a Master’s in Education in Physical Education and Coaching from Boston University, and currently teaches at a Noble Network charter school in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

Men’s Charity Game September 3rd

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Want to enjoy your favorite sport on the lake front while supporting our mission? Ok great, then come on out to the Era Sports Charity Game on September 3rd! We’d like to thank Pete Fitzgerald, Era Sports, and Beers Lacrosse Club for organizing this amazing event!


$5 fee, Online registration closes Sept 1.
Register online

Min $25 donation payable direct to OWLS

OWLS Online Donation

On-site registration is $50 donation to OWLS


Up2Us/Americorps Coach Position Available Now at OWLS

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OWLS Up2Us Assistant Coach

OWLS creates opportunity for Chicago’s most at-risk youth through scholarship, service, and the sport of lacrosse. Using inner-city schools and community centers as an access point we provide:

  1. Scholarship access for high school and college
  2. Service-learning projects to support the communities we serve
  3. Lacrosse programming within a sports-based youth development model

Ultimately, seasoned OWLS participants achieve in the classroom as well as on the field, and explore educational and economic options past the high school setting. OWLS currently serves over 150 at-risk youth at six school sites and four park district locations in Chicago. 99.4% of our participants identify as Black/Hispanic/Multi-Racial and 90% of our students live in low-income households.

OWLS is partnering with the Up2Us/Americorps mission to inspire youth to achieve their potential by providing them coaches who are trained in positive youth development. The Up2Us Coach will assist our Program Director, providing program support and directly mentoring, coaching, and tutoring students throughout the year. The position is ideal for a college student or recent graduate who is eager to gain experience in sports-based youth development and education.

Responsibilities include:

  •  Assisting the Program Director during practice 2 times per week after school during the fall and spring season, occasionally leading drills and activities;
  •  Assisting the Program Director during “Lunchtime Lax” learn to play clinics 1-2 times per week during the fall and winter season, occasionally leading drills and activities;
  •  Collaborating with the Program Director to plan practices;
  • Support OWLS site managers in all logistics and administrative tasks related to youth programs (grades 3-8) [includes equipment management, data entry, filing, family communication].
  • Providing academic and social-emotional support to students during the school day (in school hours are flexible and can accommodate other positions or obligations as needed) and after school.


Ideal Up2Us Coach candidates should be able to coach independently set appropriate goals and expectations not only for players, but also for themselves. Our participants are generally very energetic and possess a multitude of personalities, learning styles and emotional differences.

  •    Lacrosse experience as a player or coach is preferred, but is not mandatory.
  •    Basic proficiency in Excel/Word is a plus, but not required.
  •    Consent to a nationwide criminal background check is required.


  •    Living stipend of $7,770.00
  •    End of service education award of $2,685.00 furnished by AmeriCorps
  •    Training workshops throughout the year from Up2Us and OWLS Lacrosse.

Available: August 2017

Appointment: 12 months, 20 hrs/week

To Apply:

Send a cover letter and resume with “OWLS Up2Us Coach” and your name in the subject heading to our Executive Director, Sam Angelotta ( Finalists for the position must also complete an application through Up2Us to be selected.

OWLS Lacrosse is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity ◆ 1772 W Ainslie St, Chicago IL 60640 ◆ ◆

Sliding Towards Success in Chicago, by Taylor Harris

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For the current generation, watching TV is a vastly different experience now than it once was. Years ago, families would sit in front of the TV, and “flip” through the channels and decide on something to watch. The family came together and communicated during TV commercials, enjoying their shared experience. As a teenager in the 90’s, I recall coming together around a TV show called Sliders, where a group of people traveled to similar (but alternate) realities solving problems, avoiding catastrophes, and trying not to interfere in that reality’s course of events. It’s an interesting concept to ponder, and one I want to consider more as it relates to the influence lacrosse can have in people’s lives.  What would life be like if certain things went differently? How can the game of lacrosse transform people’s reality, and help avoid alternate catastrophes?

To help me answer this question, let me quickly share two personal “a-ha” stories from a rural backyard in northern Virginia. As a young boy who had challenges in and out of the classroom, and was often told that I had attention and hyperactivity issues, I was in desperate need of an outlet. Thankfully, my older brother Jake started playing high school lacrosse, and brought home all the lessons he learned at practice. Lacrosse was new, fun, unique, and most importantly- a way we could spend quality time together. Jake was an excellent teacher, and one of the best lessons he taught me was to practice with my left hand more than my right, so that I could use both hands equally well. My first lacrosse life lesson: improve your weaknesses until they are your strengths.

My younger sister’s entrance to the game soon followed. We came home and worked together on the net in our backyard, just as Jake and I had done before. Starting with tennis balls at first, and then progressing to lacrosse balls later, Amelia soon blossomed into an exceptional goalie with lightning fast reactions, and an edge that demanded respect. I recall vividly attending her first recreational game- the one where she let in 13+ goals. After the game, I asked her what went wrong out there. She simply replied, “The balls were going too slow.” I immediately thought of the valuable lesson my brother taught me, and smiled as I realized my sister was learning the same lesson. My second lacrosse life lesson: skills and life lessons can be passed amongst others through lacrosse.

By merely playing lacrosse with my siblings, two critically important life lessons were given room to grow in my psyche. This is the beauty of sport- it can reinforce valuable lessons that are being taught in the classroom or at home. And sometimes, in the most brilliant of ways, sport can actually introduce valuable life lessons that can be applied to other settings. Concepts like teamwork, confidence, and sacrifice all are organic to sport, but not always in our everyday lives. Returning to the aforementioned Sliders TV show from above, imagine if we could wholesale life lessons across contrasting realities through sport. Would such a transfer always have a positive result, or could it cause a disturbance?

This is the question we seek to grapple at OWLS (Outreach With Lacrosse and Schools). In 2016 there were 779 homicides and over 4,000 shooting victims in the city of Chicago. Since 2011, OWLS has established 5 project sites in the heart of these embattled neighborhoods, providing a positive option for hundreds of at-risk youth through academic enrichment, service-learning, and the sport of lacrosse. Using lacrosse as the medium through which we “slide” across cultural and socio-economic demographics, we aim to instill valuable life lessons in our participants that will enrich their lives. We feel that by using sport as our interactive medium, these life lessons can be absorbed more organically by our participants, rather than using a more direct head-on approach. And while our efforts have yielded amazing success stories over the past several years of operation, there are certainly areas that have given rise to pause and reflection.

The notion of “plugging and playing” might be commonplace to the world of tech, but we should be cautious when trying to use this term in the human domain. Life lessons have attachments and experiences and viewpoints native to the individual; and are lost when attempts are made to relay to others with differing experiences, viewpoints, etc. We have experienced this hardship first hand in the sports based youth development arena. Children of varying backgrounds and experiences view our messaging differently as they individually process our programming themes. Through this discovery process, we’ve learned some best practices on how to connect with our participant base, and maximize each individual’s potential growth and development. We’ve learned that as we “slide” across various differing contexts, we need to first take time to understand our environment fully, and then recognize what accommodations need to be made in order to provide the most fertile growth environment possible.

Organizations like OWLS, who have been actively practicing this “sliding” and discovering loop for some time, are on the forefront of advancing optimal practices and procedures for our participant demographic. Serving the communities of violence-torn Chicago through the game of lacrosse has taken tremendous personal commitment, drive, resiliency, and dedication across the years. And as Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” OWLS aims to achieve continued success in enriching the lives of our participant base, by embracing the struggle of transferring valuable life lessons and skills through the game of lacrosse.

So when we seek to answer the question if there are both positive and negative implications of sliding life lessons and skills from one reality to another, it seems the answer resembles more of a symbiotic relationship than a simple “yes or no.” Whereas lessons are ported from one area to another, both the lesson bearer and receiver seem to have influence on the final product. As this iterative process repeats itself over several practices per week, and several months of training per year, organizations such as OWLS develop a keen understanding, or systems learning, of the problems we face and solutions to implement. The systematic issues that face our participant base are complex and vast, and the barriers of entry to lacrosse that exist in Chicago are equally voluminous. But we are thankful that our participants have imparted great life lessons and skills on us over the years, just as we have in them. For without these valuable lessons, we’d miss improving upon our OWLS experience.

And so as we look to continue our efforts in “sliding” valuable life lessons and skills to future generations of Chicago children through lacrosse, we accept that traveling across the various cultural and socio-economic realities will have ripple effects that reverberate in both progressive and reflective directions. This is the cost of doing business in the world of sports based youth development- you must open your vault of valued life lessons and skills and allow for new entries to be stored, just the same as we ask of our participants. This symbiotic system of growth and change does not occur quickly- instead it is the result of weekly tactical victories that ultimately lead to large scale operational wins.

And so who are the “sliders” of OWLS? We seem to have played the role of coach, mentor, parental-figure, friend, clinician, researcher, life coach, and vault owner. But as we soldier on into the future, our proudest moments don’t come from the personas we assume, but rather the amazing young people we interact with as we slide across our Chicago realities.

Taylor Harris currently serves as the League Director and Director of Coaches/Officials Training for OWLS. Prior to joining OWLS, Taylor worked on the nationally recognized collegiate lacrosse staffs at Northwestern University (women) and Tufts University (men). Taylor also served six years in the United States Marine Corps as both an intelligence officer and scout sniper platoon commander. In those six years he deployed three times, once to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). He played collegiately at the United States Naval Academy from 2003-2006, and is originally from Clifton, Virginia. Taylor holds a Master’s in Education in Physical Education and Coaching from Boston University, and currently works in the Special Education department at a Noble Network charter school in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

Spring Storyboard Photos…and Get in on Golf.

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OWLS Family,

We’ve really been making an impact this year, but don’t take my word for it…


We hope that in August you can join us at the Inaugural “Links for Lax” Charity Golf Outing! The event will be held at Harborside International GC, just minutes from the Chicago Loop. Harborside offers the premier golf experience in the Chicagoland area and all proceeds benefit OWLS inner-city school lacrosse programs!

Thank you for your continued support,
Sam Angelotta
OWLS Executive Director