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"> Blaxers Blog: Rick Burton's Mission to Grow Lacrosse in Harford County (Md.) | USA Lacrosse Magazine

Blaxers Blog: Rick Burton's Mission to Grow Lacrosse in Harford County (Md.)

US Lacrosse Magazine has partnered with Blaxers Blog to produce a series of stories that illuminate the minority lacrosse experience and promote the accomplishments of those individuals who have defied stereotypes to succeed in the sport.

Read more about Blaxers Blog and the content partnership here.

Without a sense of community, one lacks a support system to improve his or her life. Baltimore has utilized lacrosse as a healing and teaching mechanism for generations. Lacrosse has manifested profound impacts in people’s lives.

An Air Force veteran by way of West Baltimore, Rick Burton gives back to the city he loves while growing Harford County’s lacrosse circuit. His gracious and candid personality speaks volumes of his character.

As a youth, Burton’s father enrolled him in extracurricular programs to deter him from a life of violence and incarceration that decimated his Baltimore neighborhood.

While growing up in the Walbrook Junction neighborhood of Baltimore, Burton juggled commitments of playing summer baseball for three separate teams. The burnout from baseball commitments led to his decision to pick up lacrosse at his middle school in the sixth grade.

In 1993, Burton’s mother recommended that he travel to a Johns Hopkins home game, where he would study from the movements he witnessed and attempt to emulate strategies on the practice field. Burton remembered seeing the Gait Brothers roam on the sidelines before they suited up for a Baltimore Thunder home game.

Burton’s strong interest and dedication to the sport would pay off a year later, as he was named to his middle school league all-star team. Once Burton continued his lacrosse career at Lake Clifton High School in East Baltimore, there was a learning curve that many often experience.

“I went from playing lacrosse in West Baltimore where many kids played the sport to barely having nine teammates at Lake Clifton,” Burton said. “My coach tried his best to instruct us with his little knowledge of the sport, as he also coached football.”

“Looking back, I wish somebody gave me the guidance to play with a more developed program.” — Rick Burton

Burton also played football and was a member of the swimming team, winning many Baltimore City championships in the 1990s. He stepped up and taught his teammates the basics of lacrosse as they attempted to catch up to his skill level. Since Burton was double-teamed and his peers couldn’t effectively pass or catch, games were often rough for Lake Clifton.

“It hurt me because I didn’t have the basic development to prepare for college,” he said. “Looking back, I wish somebody gave me the guidance to play with a more developed program.”

Burton said that his long-term goal is to help Baltimore City Public School lacrosse teams improve uniformly.

“Community equates to family, and you must give back,” Burton said. “Even when I was aiding foreign nations in the Air Force, I thought of how to prevent folks at home from following the mistakes I made.”

Many Lake Clifton football talents matriculated to the Division III ranks at Wesley College, which inspired Burton to go down the same path.

“Wesley made sense to me because my teammates were already there, and their experiences peaked my interests solely in the institution,” Burton said. “I went on a campus visit and Coach [Scott] Burnam guaranteed me a spot if I handled my business. Granted, I wasn’t Division I material because I graduated with a 2.8 GPA.”

Wesley awarded Burton a partial academic scholarship and financial aid to attend immediately after his graduation in Summer 2000.

Burton was coming into a well-established Wesley men’s lacrosse team that was guided by Burnam, a member of the Mohawk Nation. Burnam was the 2000 PAC Coach of the Year and helmed the program’s only conference championships (1999, 2000).

As Burton entered his first full semester at Wesley, his trajectory took a wrong turn as he was entangled with distractions on-campus.

“I was having the time of my life up to the point where I ended up on academic probation,” Burton said. “I had to change my whole mindset because before the holiday break, Coach Burnam informed me that I couldn’t play until my grades improved.”

Burton raised his GPA after committing to extensive study hall sessions. Once his academic probation was lifted, Burton got back on the field. During a 2001 neutral-site game against Whittier College in Colorado Springs, Burton was inserted as the starting faceoff man after the team was shorthanded.

“I had no choice but to make best of my opportunity to play as a freshman,” Burton said.

Once his freshman season concluded, Burton admitted to himself that he wasn’t ready for college and dropped out after amassing $33,000 of student loan debt.

Burton pursued the military in June 2001 as a means of paying off his debt. He was fortunate enough to have a first cousin who retired as an Army Master Sergeant who advised him of branch options.

“I knew that I needed structural discipline, and joining the Air Force was one of the best moves I ever made in my life,” Burton said.

Even during his military service, Burton carried his lacrosse stick as he traveled across the globe. Burton treasured his college stint and showcased his Wesley lacrosse helmet whenever possible. While serving his first assignment in Charleston, S.C., Burton played club lacrosse with his military peers during weekends in Asheville, N.C.

“The military taught me how to be financially disciplined by only spending on essential items,” he said.

Lacrosse being essential to Burton’s life was an expensive hobby.

“I wasn’t making much money at the time, so my teammates and I found ways of pooling funds to stretch our budget,” Burton said.

Burton rationed MRE packages to minimize food costs while saving gas and lodging money. He would share hotel rooms with his service mates and sometimes sleep on the floor if needed.

Burton said that his upbringing in Baltimore prepared him for the survival tactics he experienced in the Air Force.

During a later assignment at the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in South Florida, Burton was introduced to Chazz Woodson during a local club game. Woodson previously served as an elementary school teacher in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system and played for the MLL’s Florida Launch franchise in 2014 and 2017.

Burton’s efficient defense on Woodson garnered a compliment during their postgame conversation. Burton was unaware of Woodson’s lacrosse status as he disconnected with the lacrosse beat during his military service. He understood the gravity of his encounter after doing a YouTube search of Woodson’s highlights. Their mutual conversation led to a friendship that spanned beyond lacrosse.

While in Florida, Burton was part of the Take Stock in Children mentoring program, a non-profit in Doral. Burton would often take his mentees to club lacrosse games where he and Woodson played. Woodson thought had a great idea to hold lacrosse clinics for the kids after recognizing Burton’s dedication to lacrosse, mentorship and the mentees’ interest in the game.  

Burton and Woodson collaborated to host lacrosse clinics for local children before games. Unfortunately, the clinic series never panned out.

Burton’s future assignment at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland kept him close to home as he pondered plans to continue mentoring youth. During his search for diverse youth lacrosse programs, Burton learned of Charm City Youth Lacrosse. He accompanied Woodson to the 2016 US Lacrosse Convention while networking with numerous organizations, one being Charm City. 

Coincidentally, Woodson had asked Burton about coaching at Charm City and assisted him with the US Lacrosse Sankofa Clinic Series launch.

“I love my entire Sankofa experience and how we evolved as an organization,” Burton said. “Our kids are elated by the clinics because they feed off the energy we give and the visual representation they’re inspired by. You can do anything that you put your mind to.”

Burton credits affirmations bestowed from Sankofa clinicians as a major factor on why the series continues to retain engagement from children. He hopes that lacrosse can gradually become a global sport played by the masses.

While in Maryland, Burton sought an advanced coaching position. He found a few coaching options in the emerging lacrosse suburbs of Harford County and decided on Edgewood High School in 2016.

“Once I stepped foot at Edgewood, the school’s staff took notice of my commitment to the program,” Burton said. “During our first season, I learned how to diffuse tense situations between teams.”

If Burton’s games started to become chippy, he routinely called timeouts and assessed solutions to lower the intensity with opposing coaches.

“All it takes sometimes is heart to heart conversations to resolve issues,” Burton said. “If a kid gets expelled from school because of a brawl, they won’t be in a condition to learn in a school environment.”

Burton thinks he became a better coach through understanding his players. Every year that the program improved, more support was shown by the school staff and community.

“Every summer, I invite and gain more of my high school players to follow me as Charm City players,” he said.

In 2019, Burton led Edgewood to their first MPSSAA playoff game in his tenure.

“Coaching in Harford County is fun, and I’ll continue to do all I can to grow the game here,” Burton said. “The Sankofa clinic success and the lack of lacrosse diversity in Harford County led me to create a non-profit program in 2020, Route 40 Lax.

Burton feels grateful that lacrosse brought him great joy over the years and seeks to mentor more generations of players.


Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
High School: Lake Clifton (1996-00)
College: Wesley College (2001)
Coaching Stops:

  • Edgewood High School, junior varsity head coach (2016-Present)

  • Charm City Lacrosse Coach

  • US Lacrosse Sankofa Clinician

  • Route 40 Youth Lax Organizer