Meet the Face of Everything That is Wrong with Lacrosse Today

Kevin Dugan and Sweetlax Destroying Lacrosse in Florida

I created this blog as a celebration of the game that I love, to promote and spread the news of lacrosse. As much as it ails me to have to focus on this negative topic, I feel a duty as a person whose life was blessed with the Creator’s Game and a life long ambassador of the sport to save the game from the likes of Kevin Dugan and the abysmal soulless organization he works for – Sweetlax.

Sweetlax is a for profit lacrosse company that fields teams that play nationally from U12- high school originally created in Upstate NY. Recently, they have made inroads to partner with local clubs in other states, including my home state of Florida, to create Sweetlax regional teams that provide a feeder system into the respective state’s Sweetlax national team to compete nationwide.

They charge large sums of money to participate, but the promise they pitch parents and local clubs is that participation with Sweetlax will give players access to a pipeline of paid college coaches and events that will pave a child’s way to playing lacrosse in college.

The Pitch

I had been the founder and president of Space Coast Lacrosse in the greater Brevard County, Florida region for 10 years when Kevin Dugan, newly appointed Florida Director for Sweetlax, approached me in the early spring of 2019 with his pitch for our club to partner with Sweetlax as a regional club. Having built the club alongside incredibly dedicated fellow volunteers with just under 38 U12-U14 boys in 2009, to as of summer 2020, having fielded several travel teams, the Space Coast Stingrays, winning multiple championships in major lacrosse tournaments in Florida (while having seen many of our athletes go on to successful college playing careers); we were garnering attention.

Kevin pitched our board telling us how Sweetlax and its resources could take us to the next level in player development, college recruitment, and offer a pipeline of well credentialed coaches in partnership with us. The most attractive aspect of his pitch was the coaching pipeline given our lack of experienced coaching available in our still developing lacrosse market. We ultimately decided to take the plunge to give it s shot with Kevin Dugan and Sweetlax.

Promises Unrealized

Right out of the gate, despite a large spike in registration fees, the amazing coaching Kevin Dugan and Sweetlax had promised never really materialized. Most of the coaches they provided were already previously coaching for us, only now they were getting paid substantial coaching stipends. At the U12 level, our youngest division, the coaching was specially inexperienced, the head coach having one year experience as face off coach for Florida Tech with two assistants: a college player with half a season of play under his belt (cut short by COVID) and a high school senior who had just graduated.

As the result, parents were already frustrated, not seeing the value in the higher fees they were paying, and my board was getting complaints even before the first tournament. Still, we wanted to reserve judgment until after the full season played out and while the younger divisions struggled a bit, our High School A Team steam rolled through the first tournament to win a championship in seemingly effortless fashion.

The Incident

Ironically. it would be a few bad apples on our High School A Team that would make our Sweetlax house of cards come crashing down. In a close, chippy, and heated one goal game in the semi-final of the Orlando Open against True Lacrosse there was an altercation at the end of the game between one of our players and one of their players of True Lacrosse players of African American descent that resulted in a racial slur directed their player. Several eyewitnesses at the game also overheard racially charged insults coming from the True Lacrosse player toward ours.

Later that night, the head coach of the the High School A Stingrays team involved briefed me on what had occurred and his intent to eject the player involved from the team. However, at that time, on a separate call, Kevin Dugan recommended that he not eject the player, recommending less drastic disciplinary action, given that there were racial slurs directed both ways.

Kevin’s and Sweetlax’s narrative changed when social media chats allegedly posted by some of our players in the aftermath of the incident that were racially charged were screenshot by the True Lacrosse player involved in the incident and forwarded them to members of the Black Lacrosse Alliance (BLA), a coalition of African American professional lacrosse players that advocate for equality and diversity, and making a stand against racism in the sport of lacrosse. To this day, Sweetlax and the BLA have refused to show us the alleged chat screenshots (more on this below).

This led to Kevin promptly contacting me very concerned that the incident had the potential to “end up on CNN.” He promptly set up a conference call between him, me, and Sweetlax co-owner Joe Huber. In the call we discussed taking decisive action to satisfy the outrage of the BLA. Sweetlax proposed that follow the demand of the BLA that we forfeit all divisions of our teams (U12-High School A) from our third and final tournament of the season, the Father’s Day Invitational in Palm Coast, Florida.

I told them that I understood the need for decisive action and that it would be appropriate to make the High School A team involved in the incident forfeit, but it would be unfair and very difficult to explain such a move to the parents of the kids in the other divisions that were not at all involved or even in the same facility at the time of the incident. I explained from my own personal point of view how sad it would be to notify my 11 year old son that he cannot play in his last tournament of his summer season (and his last season in the U12 division) over an incident he had nothing to do with. Being of mixed race myself (Mom is from Bogota, Colombia; Dad is Irish American from Brooklyn, NY), I – and by extension, my kids – do not have a racist bone in our bodies. Joe Huber was – at least outwardly – sympathetic to this point of view on the call and suggested that we gain additional perspective. This resulted in convening another call with the same people with the addition of the BLA co-founder, Gus Heningberg.

On that call, Gus gave us the perspective of an African American who played this game in the late 70’s in NJ and even there experienced racism while simply trying to play the game he loved. Gus was clear how aggrieved he was that racism still exists in his sport and especially so in Florida. On the subject of cancelling the tournament even for divisions not involved in the incident with True Lacrosse, Gus noted that such a move shows solidarity that we as a club stand against racism and that there is zero tolerance for such behavior. And when each parent of kids not involved in the incident or even on that team has to explain to their son exactly why they he cannot play in the last tourney, he will be made at a young age that such behavior and attitudes are not acceptable; and that we all suffer as a society from racism. It was ultimately the aforementioned follow up social media chats that allegedly involved our players that in Gus’s mind called for this type of action.

Hearing from Gus in this manner was moving and ultimately made more sense to me. For the sake of one tournament, we tell the world that we have zero tolerance for racism, we take a firm stand against it, and learn and grow toward a future of inclusion and diversity. Granted, I would nevertheless take heat from some of the parents of the kids not involved. On this consequence, Gus assured me that I need not worry, that he, Sweetlax, and the BLA would “give you cover and applaud your club for taking a stand.” He then added, “you will come out of this a stronger and better club for it.”

The very next day, ready to move on, learn, and grow from the incident and its aftermath, Sweetlax posted the following statement to its national membership severing ties with Space Coast Lacrosse, completely throwing us under the bus, and washing their hands of the any and all responsibility.

https://spacecoast.sweetlaxlacrosse.com/?p=2984

So much for giving us cover and applauding our stand. If you take a moment to read the post, you will see this key statement, “How will we change? To begin, we have immediately revoked our affiliation and severed our ties with the Space Coast Stingrays. As a part of our investigation, we discovered a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with our mission or values.”

The truth is that their “investigation” conducted over one day consisted of a Zoom call with the three African American players True Lacrosse players. They did not conduct one single interview with any of the Stingrays coaching staff, none of the referees officiating the game, one single board members, or one parent. Their only correspondence with me was about damage control, never once even bothering to ask me if I have observed systemic racism as Space Coast Lacrosse founder and only president for 10 years.

With regard to those screenshot chats, we learned from questioning our players why they were never shared with us…it was a public chat where most post anonymously and there was no way to verify who made the posts. In the course of questioning our players, we learned that there were two individuals from the team that the posts in question may have come from. Incidentally, those players were new to the Stingrays having previously played for a club to the south of us who tried out for Stingrays lured in with the Sweetlax brand.

Nowhere in their statement does Sweetlax acknowledge that the coaches of that team were THEIR OWN COACHES on THEIR PAYROLL, all hired by none other than Kevin Dugan. They accept no responsibility whatsoever in this regard other than implying their mistake in partnering with a racist club.

The Aftermath

We felt slandered, used, and abused by Sweetlax; crumpled up and thrown in the trash for the sake of their damage control. The truth about our organization is that we have always been inclusive and welcoming to kids and parents of all races since our inception. The incident was regrettable and we as a club and a community denounce any and all forms of bigotry and racism and had a zero tolerance policy in place long before Sweetlax ever came long.

President Obama recently spoke of the “cancel culture” that has arisen in our country that that it only widens our divides and does not seek to mend them and move forward with common purpose. Rather than allow us to grow, learn and move forward with the common goal of diversity and zero tolerance, to protect their profits at all cost, Sweetlax did just that, they cancelled us.

As the result of the Sweetlax statement, participation is down for this fall’s rec seasons. General membership and player numbers are down. The club did not field a boys high school travel team this fall given players’ fears that playing under the stigma of the team that Sweetlax branded the racist club they have no use for would hurt college recruitment.

Nonetheless, Space Coast Lacrosse still managed to field a U14 boys travel team this fall. The club has fielded middle school and high school girls Space Coast Stingrays fall travel teams, and the rec season had reduced participation overall, but were strong in the 4-9 year old divisions creating a foundation for the future. Space Coast Lacrosse is looking forward to fielding high school boys travel teams once again in the summer.

Sweetlax and Kevin Dugan Strike Again

I have since retired from my position as president of the club, not even coaching anymore, just enjoying watching my 12 year old son Austin play attack on the the Space Coast Stingrays U14 boys travel team. and my daughter play middie in the U10 girls rec division. This last crisis simply proved to be the last straw for me, feeling that it had drawn the last vestiges of joy in club leadership for me.

Before leaving the board, we had all collectively discovered that, while we regret that our separation from Sweetlax happened in such a blaze of glory and under the ugly dark cloud of racism, we were ultimately lucky that they discarded us to save their own skin. We learned their true colors and what matters most to them and its not lacrosse or the kids.

In the midst of our board minding its own business and going about the task of rebuilding and me enjoying life as a private citizen, Sweetlax had to add insult to injury and orchestrate this article in the November issue of US Lacrosse Magazine:

https://www.uslaxmagazine.com/fuel/us-lacrosse/no-racism-allowed-sweet-laxs-zero-tolerance-policy-after-july-26-incident

In the article, Kevin Dugan recounts the entire racial incident in the most BS terms, actually portraying himself as a hero for race relations in lacrosse and Sweetlax a champion for standing against racism in the sport of lacrosse.

Let’s be clear, until there was pressure from the BLA, Kevin Dugan’s initial response to the incident was not even to dismiss the player directly involved from the team! Their interest in decisive action and race relations in lacrosse period, came out of fear of bad publicity.

It was not enough that they threw us and the game of lacrosse as it exists in the Space Coast under the bus to save their skin. Now they are exploiting the incident to gain publicity at our expense and kick us when we are down.

Shame them and shame on especially you Kevin Dugan, trying to stamp out lacrosse for generations, perhaps indefinitely in my area after years of growing the sport before the slimy likes you came along.

But they will not have the last word here, as now they have gone too far. I will leave it to our capable board of directors to deal with the libel and slander legal side of this article (in posting this article, US Lacrosse violated every journalistic standard known to man). I will instead appeal to the court of public opinion.

In course of 10 years, I have garnered friendships across the lacrosse landscape in Florida and still maintain great friendships in the sport in NJ where I was raised playing the game and played in college. Thus, in the aftermath of Sweetlax, I received an outpouring of support and love from many. I also learned so much about Sweetlax and how they conduct business and heard so many stories of abysmal behavior from Sweetlax.

No longer constrained by the political correctness necessary to serve on a board of directors, I will share with my audience the truth about Sweetlax and its slimy directors like Kevin Dugan and why they and other for profit organizations like them are destroying the sport of lacrosse.

Watch out Kevin Dugan and Sweetlax, I am just getting warmed up!

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton, aka, Dr. Lax, was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is the author of The Man In The White Coat: A Veterinarian’s Tail of Love, president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

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