By Chris Rotolo |
RUMSON – The backyard was where their love for lacrosse bloomed.
Rob and Alex Kelly can still recall the times they spent together at their Rumson home sharpening their skills with joint wall ball sessions, and strengthening their brotherly bond with more mellow games of catch.
Back then remained focused on the fun of the sport, rather than the places it could one day take them.
However, years later that focus has shifted, as the Kelly brothers have earned the opportunity to go further than they ever dreamed, taking the international stage this summer at the FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Netanya, Israel, where they’ll headline the Jamaican National Team roster.
“When I first picked up the game of lacrosse, I never knew if I would be skilled enough to play for the varsity team in high school, let alone in college,” said Alex, 23, a 2013 graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and a two-year varsity competitor who is currently playing for Monmouth University. “Now, to be preparing to compete on the international level, it’s a dream come true.”
The Kelly brothers’ Jamaican citizenship comes from their mother Nicola, who was born in the island nation before relocating to the United Kingdom. It was there she met and married her husband, Kevin Kelly, and where the couple had two sons.
Eventually the Kellys moved across the Atlantic to New Jersey and settled in Rumson. But thanks to their mother’s national pride, the boys never lost touch with their familial roots.
“We’ve been going to Jamaica and spending time there pretty much every year since I can remember,” said Rob, 26, who graduated from RFH in 2010 after three seasons of varsity competition with the Bulldogs, followed by a spot on the University of Richmond club team. “And that’s because my mother has always maintained a strong sense of pride in her home country, and it’s something she’s certainly instilled in us.”
“Being able to represent Jamaica in this fashion has made our mother very proud,” Alex said. “We wouldn’t have this opportunity without her and it goes deeper than citizenship. She’s been instrumental in helping put this team together. From organizing the players and coaches, to the fundraising efforts, she’s basically started a small company and it’s all in the name of Jamaican lacrosse. And when mom’s pulling that much weight, we’d better play well for her.”
This journey to the FIL National Lacrosse Championships began a year ago when Rob took a trip to the Caribbean country where he spent a week training and coaching Jamaican children alongside Christian Brothers Academy alum Kevin Dugan, the executive director of Fields of Growth, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting the game through positive social impact and global leadership development.
It was at the instructional clinic where Dugan notified Kelly about plans to field the first Jamaican National Team in the county’s history and to have that outfit play among the world’s best this July in Israel.
“When I got out there Kevin and I started to talk and he realized that my mother was from Jamaica. Then I told him about my brother and he was even happier,” Rob said.
“We understand how special this is,” Alex added. “This is the first time Jamaica has had a lacrosse team play at the international level and there’s some responsibility that comes with being part of it. This a roster full of talented players with something to prove. We don’t want to just go out and play. We want to compete and win and prove that Jamaica belongs.”
The Kelly brothers and their teammates are set to appear in one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament, as the Jamaican National Team squares off with host country Israel in the event’s opener on July 12, which is expected to fill the 24,000-seat Netanya Stadium.
“That game is definitely the one we’ve all had circled on our calendars,” Rob said. “With 48 countries competing, it’s the largest turnout in the history of this tournament, and we’re going to be starting it off with all the fans and every other team on hand to watch. This is the biggest game I’ll ever be part of and it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
According to the Kelly brothers, though the FIL World Lacrosse Championship is the first step toward introducing Jamaica to the national stage, it can’t be the last, as they and their teammates are planning a sustained, hands-on effort to instill a lacrosse tradition on the island nation.
“We certainly plan on going back there at some point and we do feel that responsibility to immerse ourselves in the Jamaican lacrosse community,” Rob said. “That’s the only way to build a culture and a tradition and to ensure that this national program can be self-sustaining.”
The FIL World Lacrosse Championship is scheduled to run from July 12-21.
This article was first published in the March 29-April 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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