In the past, Tahirah Williams’ decision to wear a Jamaica lacrosse shirt in her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, might not have attracted much attention. These days, her sartorial choice is generating a much different reaction.
“I walk around in my Jamaica lacrosse shirt, and I start hearing people say, ‘Lacrosse!’” said Williams, a defender for the Jamaican women’s national team. “That’s not a sport that is big in Jamaica, but you can see that it’s growing because people are starting to recognize the name.”
When asked how she felt about the recognition, Williams, who celebrated her 28th birthday on Saturday, replied with a laugh, “I feel like a celebrity.”
Jamaica is the first Caribbean nation to compete in the World Lacrosse Championships. A member of Pool C that includes Germany, Latvia, and Wales, Jamaica will open group play against Wales on Friday at 7 p.m. at Towson University’s Tiger Field.
“It will forever be an unforgettable moment because no one has ever played,” said midfielder Jada Williams, who has no relation to Tahirah Williams. “It’s a completely new experience, and I’m hoping we can create new memories.”
Jamaica, which is seeded No. 27, is one of four countries making their World Championship debuts. The others are Argentina, Norway, and Puerto Rico. Uganda, which was slated to be the first team from the continent of Africa, was ruled out Wednesday afternoon after travel issues prevented the team from arriving in time for its games.
World Lacrosse CEO Jim Scherr said the field’s expansion from 25 to a record 29 participants is an encouraging sign of the sport’s growing popularity.
“When I started five years ago, there were 58 members that the World Lacrosse counted. Now, there are 77 in five years, which is an incredible increase for a team sport that is much more difficult to start on a national level in any country,” he said. “So it’s really a testament to the overall growth of the game, and within the game, it’s a testament to the countries that have embraced the growth of women’s lacrosse.”
In a nation where soccer, track and field and netball (a version of basketball) have traditionally dominated the sports landscape, lacrosse has made inroads in Jamaica with 15 schools and 19 teams competing in local leagues. Jada Williams, 20, recalled being introduced to lacrosse in 2014 after participating in basketball, cricket, soccer, track and netball (her favorite).
“I just wanted something different,” she said. “School was already a lot, and I needed something as an outlet, and lacrosse was definitely that. Whenever I play, I feel free.”
Tahirah Williams enrolled at Howard University in 2016 hoping to play soccer and instead served as a team manager. When a soccer player suggested she try out for the lacrosse team, Williams was open to the idea.
“I think it was the novelty of it,” said Williams, who played for the Bison in 2017 and 2018 before graduating with a bachelor’s in biology. “I had to expand a lot as a person in order to be competent in the sport. All of the other sports came natural to me because it was me using my body. But in lacrosse, I had a stick as an extension of my body. There was so much to learn that I kept falling in love with it the more I played, and the more I played, the more I loved it.”
Jamaica’s first international foray took place at the 2019 Under-19 World Lacrosse Championships in Peterborough, Canada. A few months later, the country announced its presence at the 2019 Pan-American Lacrosse Association women’s qualifiers when it edged Mexico, 9-8, for the bronze medal and earned an automatic berth to this week’s World Championships.
“It was very thrown-together at that point,” said player-coach Karen Healy-Silcott, the coach at Howard and former midfielder at Syracuse. “We had just enough women to play, and by the end, we had no subs. So now we’ve had three years [extended one year by the coronavirus pandemic], and the blessing in disguise is that we had time to prepare and time to try to fundraise.”
“I think we rallied together because we were so new,” said Tahirah Williams, who will begin studying in August for a doctorate in quantitative and systems biology at the University of California, Merced. “When we competed in the Pan-American lacrosse qualifiers, we didn’t know each other. What we had to rely on was each other. We had to quickly bond and know that if I messed up on the field, I had someone there to support me, and if I had that support, I could do my best.”
Healy-Silcott said the price tag to equip and send the team to Towson totaled $40,000. The cost per player was $2,200, which was met by vigorous fundraising and generous donors.
Even after that, there were hiccups. A plan for the players to gather for training camp at Indian Creek School in Crownsville, where her husband, Brian Silcott, is the boys lacrosse coach, was complicated by a canceled flight that stranded a group in Miami overnight. When the players did arrive, their luggage and equipment were delayed, requiring a donation of $450 worth of cleats in which the players could practice.
Despite it all, Healy-Silcott said the team has remained calm.
“I think you have to understand what it’s like to be Jamaican in order to do this level of crazy,” she said. “We laugh at everything. We have so much fun. It’s kind of normal for us to just go with the flow and make everything work. The girls are always in a good mood. We’re just so happy to be here. It’s been a long wait.”
While 10 of the team’s 19 players hail from Jamaica, the rest played in the United States. Defenders Corina Mahorn and Taylor Erwin played at Division I Detroit Mercy and Division III St. Mary’s, respectively, Alexis Bell recently wrapped up her senior year at Navy, and attacker Ishcah Browne is a rising junior at Division II Chowan.
At 43, Healy-Silcott is the oldest player on the roster, while the youngest is 19. The mother of an 8-year-old, Healy-Silcott is joined by Erwin, who has a 6-year-old.
Jamaica figures to be underdogs against more experienced opponents. But Jada Williams said she and her teammates are no pushovers.
“They haven’t seen us practice or train as much, but we’re different from underdogs,” she said. “I don’t think they know what is coming because we’re just a nation from the Caribbean. But we’re not happy just representing our island nation.”
Healy-Silcott said she has had to add a sense of urgency to practices to accelerate the learning curve for her players. But she said the team is beginning to exhibit the competitive nature it will need at this level.
“Everything matters,” she said. “Being able to represent the country just adds a whole other level of pride to it, and I think the girls are really believing that we can do well because nobody knows what to expect from Jamaica. So I just think that we have nowhere to go but up.”
WALES VS. JAMAICA
Towson University’s Tiger Field
Friday, 7 p.m.