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The Kid, the Lacrosse Player An 11 year old Denver City Lax player found his way to the 2017 MLL Championship game and beat cancer along the way

Photography by EDWARD DECROCE

Ezekiel Brown hadn’t yet turned 11 when his mother, Yolanda, faced the task of telling her youngest of three boys he had synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer often occurring in the extremities of the arms or legs.

"I was playing lacrosse outside when my mom called me in,” says Zeke, a young 5th grader at the time. “She sat me down and told me I had cancer." So I said, ‘OK, we’ll have surgery, and it's gonna be over with.’

“She sat me down and told me I had cancer."

A few days later doctors successfully removed a tumor from Zeke’s left arm, and within a week he was back at school and playing his favorite sport – lacrosse. That was last February.

A tumor was removed from Zeke’s arm in February. Continuous follow-up care includes medical scans to monitor Zeke's health with optimistic results to date.

A WISH GRANTED

Zeke's wish was to join the Denver Outlaws, the team his youth coach - MLL Offensive Player of the Year Eric Law - stars on. (Game day photos courtesy of Denver Outlaws, Major League Lacrosse, and Pretty Instant)

This past summer the Make-A-Wish Foundation learned of Zeke’s story and helped grant his dream of becoming a professional lacrosse player with the Denver Outlaws and a Warrior Lacrosse Pro. The Outlaws jumped in and signed Zeke to a one game contract at which time Warrior generously had the new pro put his name to a one year deal.

Zeke's game day included signing a pro contract, interviews, fan autographs, leading the team out of the stadium tunnel and lots of high fives.

Zeke's youth coach happens to be All Star Outlaw attackman Eric Law, this year's MLL Offensive Player of the Year. Sometimes the stars align, and sure enough it was Law who ripped home an overtime game winner on Zeke’s special day with the Outlaws as an official team member.

Law’s heroics propelled the Outlaws into this season’s MLL playoffs. “I truly believe having Zeke a part of the Denver Outlaws helped us win that game," said Law afterwards.

Whether the Outlaw’s victory came from inspiration, good fortune or talent, Zeke’s story captured the attention of the lacrosse world and many others across the country. And Zeke fit in so well with the team the Outlaws asked him to stay on through the MLL playoffs including the championship game in Dallas.

DENVER CITY LAX

Denver City Lax fielded 14 boys and girls teams coached by 60 volunteers in 2017. Of the 300 full-time participants, 93% identify as African American, Hispanic or multi-racial.

Zeke’s uplifting run with the Outlaws finds its roots planted and nourished by Denver City Lax, a non-profit creating educational opportunities for at-risk youth through the sport of lacrosse.

Denver City Lax operates year-round, and provides all programming at no cost. Lacrosse is the centerpiece, but the organization’s focus is on youth development and education.

“Coach Ben gave me my first stick when I was 5. I scored in our second game. My back was to the goalie and I threw the ball over my head and it went in. My first goal and trick shot."

Zeke and the Brown’s discovered Denver City Lax in 2011 and represent families coast to coast joining the game from urban neighborhoods with little or no prior knowledge regarding the sport and its history. The Browns, like most parents with kids that pick up a lacrosse stick, fell in love with the game, and embraced the sport.

Zeke's spring team practices twice a week with league games on weekends leading to year-end tournaments involving teams throughout Colorado.

COACHES AND MENTORS

Eric Law is Program Manager for Denver City Lax. He also coaches Zeke’s 6th grade team, a group of kids he began working with when they were 7 and 8 years old.

When the Brown’s learned of Zeke’s cancer the first call outside their immediate family was to Zeke’s coach and mentor Eric Law. Law then called fellow City Lax coach and lifelong friend Drew Babb, himself a cancer survivor.

Drew Babb, a former three sport star and scholar athlete that played lacrosse at DU is another coach on Zeke’s team. Babb beat Hodgkins while at DU. “My coaches talk about perseverance and hard work,” says Zeke.

Babb was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma seven years ago when entering the University of Denver. He beat it. Babb and his mother Pam, a parent who had first hand experience navigating a son’s cancer diagnosis and recuperation, immediately shared their personal stories with the Browns as a prelude to Zeke’s own recovery. "They were a blessing," says Yolanda.

Zeke’s team won their youth leagues division championship last spring in a game played at the University of Denver’s Barton stadium.

“We’ve been very fortunate to attract amazing coaches that not only teach lacrosse skills but care about kids and the community,” said Denver City Lax program director Ben Allison.

“Look at Zeke’s team. Eric Law, Drew Babb, Taylor Young, Brandon Zerr and Antonio Lucero – all significant individuals in their own right - have been with this team since the kids were 8 years old. It would be hard to find a more talented and positive group of role models on a single team anywhere than these guys.”

IMMERSION IN THE GAME

Zeke's passion for lacrosse has been fueled by the opportunity to immerse in the sport.

Zeke and other City Lax kids practice and play on organized teams competing in league play, attend camps and training clinics, tryout and compete with summer tournament teams, train and play in indoor box leagues, and enjoy the game as fans at youth, high school, college and professional games.

The ability to stay engaged in the game, develop skills and immerse in the sport is essential to establishing lacrosse in new neighborhoods not only as an avenue to high school and collegiate opportunities, but as a lifetime activity as well.

Developing skills and a love of the game through knowledgeable coaches provides the foundation for kids and families to stay connected to lacrosse long-term.

THE BOX

Offensive guru Matt Brown, University of Denver Associate Head Coach and USBOXLA co-founder, works with Ezekiel on the concrete box rink.

Zeke loves box lacrosse, a game showing up coast to coast as coaches and program leaders take notice the box game is different enough from outdoor lacrosse it diversifies training routines while building skills in catching, throwing and shooting in close spaces.

“I left the country and went to Canada and played in a box tournament. I got my passport, and this is just the beginning.”

EDUCATION

Lacrosse has many ties to education. Opportunity on the field requires engagement in the classroom first.

Zeke made the jump from elementary to middle school this fall. He spent 1st through 5th grade at University Prep, a Denver pubic school with a curriculum built on the precept College Starts in Kindergarten.

“Math is a favorite class. Last year I worked on decimals and was learning about variables. We also solved for the unknown.”

PLAYING IT FORWARD

While Zeke just entered middle school this fall he is one of hundreds of younger Denver City Lax kids that have their eyes on City Lax alumni currently gaining acceptance to 4-year colleges, many as first in family attendees.

Jada Bonner, a senior at Regis University majoring in Business, was a collegiate All American last spring as she helped led her team to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. Hobart College is the new home for freshman midfielder Quentin Birch, a 2017 high school All American. (Photo Regis Athletics)

To date, City Lax players have been admitted with scholarship and financial assistance to numerous universities and colleges, as well as private schools at the elementary through high school level.

On the field, the organizations first high school and NCAA collegiate All-Americans were honored this past spring season.

FAMILY

Christopher Brown and his wife Yolanda grew up in Denver and met in high school. The Park Hill neighborhood is home. They are raising three sons. Ezekiel is their youngest.

“My mom and dad protect me and love me.”
“My dad fixes things, especially my bike.”
The Browns, like most parents with kids that pick up a lacrosse stick, fell in love with the game, and embraced the sport.

BEST SPORT I KNOW

Zeke joined Denver City Lax in 2011, and the sport has become his 'medicine game.'

Lacrosse is among the fastest growing sports at the youth, high school and collegiate levels in the United States. The game is actually America's first sport, played by Native Americans prior to European settlement. Native American tradition teaches lacrosse was a gift from the Creator, played in part as a medicine game for healing people.

“Lacrosse is the best sport I know. I take my stick everywhere."

Eight years ago Zeke's hometown of Denver was labeled the nation’s “Best Lacrosse Town” by Inside Lacrosse, and that was before the University of Denver men’s team won an NCAA championship, the Outlaws hoisted the Steinfeld Cup, the University of Colorado launched a high level women’s Division 1 team and the city hosted 38 visiting nations for the 2014 World Games.

"I feel invincible when I have my stick in my hand."

SUCCESS THROUGH LACROSSE

“I’m part of the college graduation class of 2028."

A number of leading urban lacrosse programs throughout the nation are driving the game's emergence in neighborhoods without previous connection to the sport. With the support of a generous and caring community, Zeke and thousands of kids around the country are finding success through lacrosse.

"Thank you can never be enough!" Ezekiel Brown

Credits:

Edward DeCroce Photography, Denver Outlaws

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