Matt Bocklet’s break from playing one sport as a kid turned into a full-fledged professional career in another as an adult.
Bocklet, a top defensive player for the Denver Outlaws lacrosse team, said he came to his current sport only after his parents noticed that he’d grown tired of baseball. They encouraged the 10-year-old Bocklet to try his hand at lacrosse, a lesser-known sport that offered plenty in the way of good exercise.
“My parents wanted me to get into something that involved a little more running, something that was a little more active,” Bocklet said as he waited in the gym at Mission Viejo Elementary School on Oct. 20. “They switched me over when I was 10 years old and I never looked back.”
Bocklet, now in his sixth season for the Outlaws, joined fellow starter Jeremy Noble and defensive coordinator Jon Cohen at Mission Viejo on a Tuesday afternoon, hoping to spark the same type of interest for a wide range of Mission Viejo students. They had plenty to boast about – the Outlaws won the 2014 Major League Lacrosse championship earlier this year.
The crew from the Denver Outlaws took part in one of the school’s Project UNIFY after-school activities, an instructional series that pairs Mission Viejo’s special needs students with their typically developing peers. The Special Olympics developed the national Project UNIFY model, which seeks to increase “athletic and leadership opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities, while creating communities of acceptance for all,” according to the organization’s website.
At Mission Viejo, the monthly activity has involved a wide variety of participants from the community. Smoky Hill High School student athletes worked directly with the students, and Mission Viejo faculty took part in a Winter Olympics unit.
The Outlaws’ visit represented an important milestone for the Mission Viejo UNIFY community.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a professional sports team here,” said Krista Welch, a physical therapist at the school. Welch is a neighbor of a team captain, and she used that connection to bring a new element to her team’s UNIFY team. “It really benefits the children, because they see district employees every day. It’s fun for them to see these players; the Outlaws just won the national championship and it’s a huge celebrity event to have them here.”
The Outlaws players led a select group of students through basic drills, including throwing and catching small foam balls with lacrosse sticks on the field behind the school. They highlighted the proper ways to hold a stick, the best approach to throwing and catching the ball and outlined the basic field dynamic of the sport.
The students paid close attention. Lined up in rows on the grass, students of different grade levels and backgrounds came together to learn the basics of a new sport. That was enough to make the trip worthwhile for the Outlaws players and coaches.
“The Special Olympics aspect is great, but it’s growing the game also,” Cohen said. “I love getting in front of kids who have no idea what lacrosse is. If one of them gets involved, it’s a win. It’s a no-brainer for us.”