Marquette Men's Lacrosse Partners With Milwaukee Eagles Wheelchair Team


The Milwaukee Eagles wheelchair lacrosse program is one of Marquette’s community partners.

This story appears in the May/June edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

The only thing that separates the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin and the sport of lacrosse is a space and the capitalization of the letter C.

This small difference may seem inconsequential to most, but not Dr. Kenneth Lee, who wouldn’t be leading the Marquette Eagles wheelchair lacrosse program had it not been for the discrepancy.

Back in 2015, Lee, a rehabilitation physician at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, was invited to attend a conference on lacrosse in Las Vegas. He was confused as to why he’d travel across the country for a conference about a city, La Crosse, that’s just a three-hour drive from his home.

But after asking few questions, he took a chance and arrived at a convention hosted by Wheelchair Lacrosse USA. There, instructors encouraged him to take a chair.

“I was the most pathetic player, didn’t even know how to use a stick let alone know how to play,” Lee said. “I actually hated it because it was so hard. My thumbs hurt.”

Lee flew back to Wisconsin with a few army veterans that attended the conference, and they convinced him to pursue a wheelchair team in Milwaukee. Lee had worked in adaptive sports for decades through his concentration in brain and spinal cord injuries.

In 2015, the Milwaukee Eagles were launched to provide an opportunity to local disabled, and some able-bodied, athletes to play lacrosse.

At the same time, Baltimore native Tavon Johnson had just graduated from Morgan State with a degree in sociology. He joined AmeriCorps soon after graduation.

Johnson knew about lacrosse, but it wasn’t until 2020 that he became associated with the sport. He accepted a position as a graduate assistant mentoring students at the Milwaukee Academy of Science while working to keep them active through virtual lacrosse practices.

“I consider myself an educator both in the classroom and outside of it,” he said. “It feels so great to be here and making an impact.”

Lee and Johnson are two of the community leaders that have helped bolster the lacrosse community in the Greater Milwaukee area. The Marquette men’s lacrosse program, meanwhile, has partnered with both of their organizations. What started with then-coach Joe Amplo meeting with Lee for McDonald’s breakfast in 2015 has expanded to an outreach network run by current coach Andrew Stimmel and assistant Jake Richard.

“What made this attractive was not only doing something we loved with lacrosse and serving the community, but more importantly the sustainability of it,” Stimmel said. “It wasn’t something that was going to be a one-and-done community service project. It was going to enable our guys to work in the community for all four years and get to know people in the community.”

Marquette began its outreach with the Milwaukee Eagles of the Wisconsin Adaptive Sports Association — a program supported by USA Lacrosse equipment grants and resources. Amplo’s teams volunteer coached and arranged access to gyms on campus in which the wheelchair team could practice. Some Marquette players have made the trip to Wheelchair Lacrosse Nationals.

“It started as a service-learning opportunity for me,” senior defenseman Zach Granger said during a Milwaukee Eagles webinar earlier this year. “But it grew into something that I love to do.”

Granger developed personal relationships with the players, including veteran Fred Schutz. When Schutz died in November 2020, Granger wrote a message on his cleats for the 2021 season to memorialize his friend. “For that to be his ritual that he’s done since he was a kid, and for Fred to be that important to include him in a big part of what he does, I cried,” WASA program director Sam Gracz said.

Marquette also partners with the Milwaukee Academy of Science, a public charter school for students from underrepresented communities. Johnson was hired last year to lead the new lacrosse initiative, called MKE LAX, an after-school program that meets twice weekly with members of the Marquette team. Each member of MKE LAX received a stick to practice skills at his home during the pandemic and shares at the end of each Zoom session what the opportunity means for him. “You realize how the simplest gesture because of the platform you’ve been provided can go a long way in the life of a kid.” Richard said. “We’re eager for the moment we can get together more.”    

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