WILTON — Trevor Baptiste is one of the most popular lacrosse players on the planet, with his record-setting exploits at the college and professional levels putting him on the short list of the greatest face-off specialists in the history of the sport.
As the most prominent African-American player in the game today, he’s also ready for the sport to look a little more like him.
“Lacrosse is one of those sports that lacks diversity,” Baptiste said Monday before hosting a clinic through The Faceoff Academy at the Saratoga Regional YMCA - Wilton Branch. “I take it upon myself, and it’s really cool to see more diverse kids and players across the nation. It just gets me jacked up. It’s something that I love to see and love to work for, diversifying this game. I’m going to try to help that as much as I can.”
That the clinic — which sold out well in advance — was being held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t lost on Baptiste.
“It’s a little intimidating for a kid. Maybe you have an African-American kid who goes, ‘Nobody really looks like me who plays the sport. Maybe I shouldn’t play,’” Baptiste said. “Hopefully, I can change that stigma.”
Fellow Faceoff Academy coach and professional all-star Greg Gurenlian has seen Baptiste’s impact.
“Kids now can see themselves,” Gurenlian said. “They can see somebody of their descent who's doing well in this sport, whereas before they couldn’t relate as well. I think it’s awesome that Trevor’s out here doing this.”
Baptiste was a gold medalist with Team USA at the 2018 world championships, winning a tournament-best 75.3 percent of his face-offs. Before that, Baptiste was a four-time first-team All-American and two-time Tewaaraton Trophy finalist during his collegiate career at the University of Denver from 2015 to 2018. The Denville, New Jersey native was a crucial piece on the Pioneers’ 2015 NCAA championship team.
Baptiste’s college career came to an end against UAlbany in the 2018 NCAA quarterfinals following a memorable showdown with then-UAlbany face-off extraordinaire TD Ierlan. In the much-hyped battle of the two top face-off specialists in the sport, the individual tussle finished in a draw with each player winning 15 face-offs, but UAlbany came away with the 15-13 victory en route to a berth in the national semifinals.
Last summer, Baptiste was one of the top attractions when the touring Premier Lacrosse League made its stop at UAlbany’s Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
“That was a great game for us — and then we ended up getting knocked out of the playoffs,” Baptiste said. “That was a good weekend for everyone.”
“The Albany community was awesome,” Gurenlian said. “The stadium was packed. All the merchandise was pretty much sold out. They just didn’t have enough.”
The huge turnout for Monday’s clinic was a sign of the changing profile of the face-off spot. What was once considered a zero-glamour position has been transformed by generational stars like Baptiste.
“We’ve kind of made this position cool,” Gurenlian said. “Whereas it used to be the thing nobody wanted to do, now we have rooms with 80 kids.”
It’s a long way from the innocuous start to Baptiste’s face-off path.
“I started because our coach said, ‘We need a backup face-off guy. You seem pretty athletic. You’re going to do it,’” Baptiste said. “With guys like Greg that have excelled at the professional level, face-offs are something that kids want to do now, which is great to see.”