Varsity Lacrosse: Cristo Rey gets it right

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When the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School boys’ lacrosse team beat Mt. Carmel on Friday to claim the first MIAA victory in its history, it was another milestone step for a program that has steadily compiled them in the five years since it first began.

Matt Hanna is the head lacrosse coach at the South Chester Street school in Baltimore, where students come from low-income families and pay for a portion of their tuition by working in the school’s Corporate Internship Program (CIP). The students work five full days a month as interns for their corporate sponsors, and in return the sponsors help defray the cost of their tuitions.

A 10th grade history teacher at Cristo Rey, the Geneva, New York native’s intention when returning to the city of his undergraduate years was to coach less and focus on teaching in the inner city. Those plans changed when some of the students at the school heard of Hanna’s considerable lacrosse background and talked him into starting a club team.

Cristo Rey pictured at Annapolis's Key School earlier this spring.
Cristo Rey at Annapolis’s Key School earlier this spring.

The club started five years ago with just ten students and had only freshman and sophomores, as the newly-opened high school was gradually filling its enrollment from the bottom up. The team used donated equipment that initial year and practiced a few days a week at Patterson Park.

“We didn’t have a game our first year. It was an experiment in every sense of the word,” Hanna said.

The Hornets, now a full varsity team, still utilize the park as their home field for lacrosse. This spring it played its first game on the new turf field at Patterson Park. It was a major step up for the team in conditions, “We were on a terrible grass field until this spring. For the first four years of the program we had a crooked field, hills and holes everywhere. It was not ideal,” said Hanna.

Despite the conditions of what is now the team’s practice field, the Hornets prided themselves on being the only city school currently using Patterson Park as its lacrosse home field. “It’s a positive place to play sports, but the field itself was a little rough,” said Hanna.

The team established itself to the point of gaining entry into the MIAA last year, a private school league that currently includes the country’s top team, Boys’ Latin, in its upper or “A” conference. Cristo Rey struggles in the “C” conference, but it is in largely uncharted waters as a low-income inner city school playing in the private school league.


For Hanna, coaching and lacrosse are both family affairs. Matt’s father, Mike, grew up playing football and took up an interest in lacrosse while attending a military prep school prior to his freshman year at Hobart College.

At Hobart, he co-captained both the football and lacrosse teams. The elder Hanna worked up to head coaching lacrosse at Princeton in the mid-1970’s after assistant coaching stops at Johns Hopkins and Navy. He’s been the athletic director at Hobart since 1981. “I grew up watching Syracuse and Hobart win championships,” said Matt.

As an undergraduate, Hanna played under Dave Cottle at Loyola, before transferring to Johns Hopkins where he was one of the team’s captains his senior year. He played both attack and midfield for the Blue Jays and won the team’s Turnbull-Reynolds Award as the player best exemplifying sportsmanship and leadership in 2002.

Following Hopkins, Matt traveled to England to instruct the Heaton Mersey Lacrosse Club, a team with roots dating back to the 19th century. He then returned to the States first to teach and coach at St. Paul’s in Brooklandville for two years before moving west to Colorado. While there, Hanna taught and coached at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora.

Matt married his wife, Tori, while living in Colorado. She was a former lacrosse player herself, earning All-American honors at Maryland, while playing for four national championship teams. Hanna also played for the MLL’s Denver Outlaws while there, and he was named to the MLL All-Star team in 2008. The couple have a daughter, Isabel, and are expecting a second child this month.

Beyond Cristo Rey, Hanna started a non-profit, Next One Up Foundation, for inner-city kids that provides mentoring and an opportunity to learn and play lacrosse during the summer. The organization began five years ago and plays a critical role in providing a lacrosse camp experience for athletes that would otherwise be economically locked-out of what is often a prohibitively expensive, yet pivotal, part of a player’s development.

Through his efforts at Cristo Rey and Next One Up, Hanna’s been a pioneer in adding an important dimension to many city student’s lives, “I struggled with knowing that the boys were missing out on one of the greatest experiences any young man can have: to develop a new love and have the opportunity to compete with teammates against an opponent. It seems simple, but these kids were missing out on one of the most valuable relationships in life, a real team. For some kids, it was the closest thing to a family they have ever had.”


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