Min Jae Yoo (left) and Clint Yoo are brothers playing for the Korean national team in the FIL World Championship in Israel.

South Korean Brothers Find Purpose in Lacrosse and Life

NETANYA, Israel — During the first half of South Korea’s opening game Thursday morning in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, the Yoo brothers separately fell to the grass with ankle and arm injuries and remained there for extended periods. Each hobbled off the field, but eventually rejoined the action.

The 33rd-ranked team’s one-sided loss to No. 9 Germany, 19–5, incurred as little damage to the brothers’ psyches as the injuries had to their bodies. Min Jae Yoo, South Korea’s 25-year-old captain and a long-stick midfielder, said the game “showed that we had a lot of potential,” and he saw some “good signs” heading into Friday’s contest versus France. Min Seung Yoo, a defenseman who goes by Clint and is 23, said the team’s competitiveness was “certainly witnessed throughout the game.”

This is Clint’s second world championship; he played in Denver in 2014 while in high school. Min Jae missed Denver while fulfilling his military service, but 2018 is quite the international experience. In late January, Min Jae carried the Olympic torch on part of its journey to the Pyeongchang Games. He was selected, he said, to help promote lacrosse and other lesser-known sports.

“In lacrosse, it was never about rivalry, but always about supporting each other.”

The Yoos’ path to the Wingate Institute field in Netanya began in the United States soon after departing their native Seoul for New England boarding schools and continuing in American universities. Min Jae played lacrosse for two years at Penn and graduated in May, and Clint will return to Yale after spending 2018–19 studying in Paris.

At Connecticut’s The Rectory School, Min Jae’s spring sport, baseball, wasn’t doing it for him. Lacrosse grabbed him. Min Jae recruited his little brother, who’s now the taller one.

“The uniqueness of the sport attracted me,” Min Jae said of lacrosse. “It was very fast, very dynamic, very fun. It was a sport we didn’t have in Korea.”

The boys were teammates for one year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., when Min Jae also was the captain and played midfield. Clint played defense.

“We swam together since we were babies,” said Clint, sitting beside Min Jae in their team’s Netanya hotel lobby a day before the opener. “Min Jae was always supporting me.” As to lacrosse, his brother’s encouragement and suggestions are “how I got better – much better,” Clint said.

Said Min Jae: “In lacrosse, it was never about rivalry, but always about supporting each other.”

Teammate Alex Millin sees the Yoos as strong leaders.

“They’re both composed, very level-headed, always helping to correct mistakes we make on the team,” said Millin, a midfielder and a Canadian who taught English the past two years in South Korea. “Min Jae is doing a great job as a captain, keeping people focused. Min Seung does a great job on defense, keeping people composed. They don’t blame anyone, and they keep a positive attitude. They’ve been nothing but welcoming as a foreigner, and made it very easy for me to feel a part of the team.”

Loyalty also counts.

Clint’s Yale classmate and friend, Steven Lewis, awoke at 6 a.m. to reach the Germany game on a day off from his medical research in Tel Aviv. He said he was honored to be there.

Clint attended most of the campus symphony concerts of Lewis, who plays tuba. Lewis got to nearly all of the a capella performances of Clint’s campus group, The Baker’s Dozen.

The Yoos’ aunt, Ziporah Rothkopf, a resident of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, brought her husband and two granddaughters to see Min Jae and Clint at Wingate. She made her presence felt from the get-go, unleashing Curly of the Three Stooges-like woo-woo-woo-woo-woo whoops to encourage her homeland’s players. A young German fan beside her politely suggested she tone it down. Ziporah told him off.

Of her nephews, though, Ziporah said, “They are the cream of the crop, very bright boys.”

“They’re growing into their full potential,” she added. “They’ve been far away in America since they’ve been lads, so I feel for them.”

Clint said he and his brother “are incredibly thankful” to their mother, Hae Eun Kim, for sending them to the United States – Min Jae beginning in sixth grade and Clint in fifth grade – because she sought academic programs stressing extra-curricular activities and music. (Min Jae plays cello; Clint, violin.)

“She pushed us to try everything,” Clint said. “I would’ve never been in this place had I not been [in America] and picked up the long pole.”

At Yale last year, Clint tried out for the lacrosse team as a walk-on sophomore, after being away for two years in military service. Academic demands led Clint to drop the sport, so he missed being a member of the Bulldogs’ national championship team.


Min Jae Yoo (7), the 25-year-old captain and long-stick midfielder, works in health care policy after witnessing hardships in South Sudan. Clint Yoo (18), a 23-year-old defenseman, will work for an organization seeking justice for sex slaves.

Building South Korea’s club heading into the world championship proved difficult. With most players off in the United States, the full team couldn’t gather. Instead, group chats by position, covering strategy and training, were held. Those in South Korea met many weekends.

“The strongest teams are the greatest families because they have the strongest bonds. It’s hard to have that bond if 10 are in South Korea and 13 in the United States,” Min Jae explained, looking up as several players from other squads staying in the hotel headed to the Mediterranean Sea beach.

To foster cohesion, the Koreans organized a players-only retreat in late June in a rented apartment in Seoul’s Hongdae neighborhood. They drank beer, talked and watched the World Cup.

Now, Min Jae said, “I’d say we’re very close as a team, even sharing personal stories. It’s very exciting to see.”

Post-Israel, the brothers’ paths look promising, too.

Min Jae took a job in Seoul in health care policy. The field has carried meaning since his military service, when, attached to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for most of 2014, Min Jae witnessed people dying of malaria and others drinking dirty water. Corruption prevented vital medications from reaching patients, including refugees. He knew there had to be a better way.

He once aspired to become a doctor or a research scientist. South Sudan changed everything. There, Min Jae said, “I realized that overall health care is [what] I’m interested in.”

Likewise, Clint is acting to improve the world.

At Yale, he became aware of the dwindling number of South Korean women, now in their 90s, who’d been sexually enslaved by Japanese invaders during World War II. Identical works depicting one then-girl, known as the “Statue of Peace,” have been placed in several American cities, following the first one that faces Japan’s embassy in Seoul.

Clint is trying to erect more statues. After the world games, he’ll work for the Foundation for Justice, a South Korean organization seeking justice for sex slaves, known as “comfort women.”

“These women need to be apologized to, compensated,” he said. “Sexual enslavement isn’t only about delayed justice in Korea, but about violence against women and sexual discrimination.”

On the field and off, the Yoo brothers are scoring goals.