DC student honored by Chicago City Council

Lopez worked tirelessly to start park district's lacrosse program

By JACK PALMER palmer@crescent-news.com Published:

Chicago City Council recently gave public accolades during one of its meetings to a modest and reserved freshman at a small liberal arts college two states away.

It's an incredible story.

But Jimmy Lopez is an incredible person.

"It was a great feeling," said the Defiance College student, a Chicago native. "I even got to meet the mayor (Rahm Emanuel) in his office before the council meeting."

Once the meeting started, a resolution was read congratulating and paying tribute to Lopez for his dedication to the game of lacrosse and his continued work with the Chicago Park District's lacrosse programs.

"They asked me to stand while it was being read," said Lopez. "Five different aldermen (council members) talked about me. It was pretty neat."

The resolution noted specifically that Lopez was "the driving force behind the park district's introduction to boys and girls lacrosse training at various parks throughout the city." It also lauded Lopez for his dogged persistence dating back to the spring of his sophomore year in high school when he first wrote his own alderman, Mike Zalewski.

"I just asked for help and support to create a youth lacrosse program at a park in the 23rd Ward, which was close to where I lived," related Lopez. "Nothing much happened right away, but I continued to present my idea to anyone who would listen.

Learning firsthand that the wheels of big city government often turn at a snail's pace, Lopez and his exuberant advocacy eventually attracted the attention of Lona Lane, alderman for the 18th Ward.

"She thought it was a great idea," said Lopez. "She was very encouraging."

Lopez steadfastly continued his efforts which resulted in his meeting with city park superintendent Michael Kelly last August. Together, they outlined the programs and volunteering needed to help teach the fundamentals of lacrosse to children on the city's south side.

Based upon Lopez's networking, the True Lacrosse club and the city's park district have created an alliance in providing a "train the trainer" for park instructors for the purpose of creating lacrosse teams from within the city's park district

"Lacrosse is a growing sport in Chicago and around the country," said Lopez, a starting left side attacker with the first-ever Yellow Jacket lacrosse team, which plays its home opener Saturday against Calvin College. "It's very satisfying that we are getting things off the ground in Chicago parks. The council already approved its 2013 budget, which allocates funds to provide access to lacrosse with a goal of reaching at least 300 young people in this first year."

Added Lopez: "I will be meeting again with Mayor Emanuel soon. He wants to hear more of my ideas."

The son of James Lopez Sr. and Christina Benz, the DC freshman attended St. Daniel the Prophet Grammar School where he first enjoyed learning the basics of lacrosse with Team Illinois, a traveling team.

He continued playing as a starting varsity attacker at St. Laurence Catholic High School for three years, while he continued to participate in the Team Illinois and True Lacrosse club programs.

"This summer I hope to go back to Chicago and coach in the new park program," said Lopez. "Basketball is the most popular sport among youth, but there are three million people living in the city. I think we can easily reach 300 young people with the new lacrosse park program. I think we can reach 1,000. Maybe we can put an all-star team together and play teams from other cities."

During the past three years, Lopez has befriended Major League Lacrosse (MLL) members Jake Deane, Mike Gable, John Lamon and John Masterson.

"I played for Deane and Gable on traveling club teams and I met Lamon and Masterson when attending MLL lacrosse matches in Annapolis, Md., the past two summers," said Lopez. "This whole thing has been a great experience for me."

Here in Defiance, Lopez has also captured the attention of college president Mark Gordon and lacrosse coaches Ryan Kuhn and Andrew Routt.

"Jimmy is a terrific person and we are very proud of him," lauded Gordon. "He is a credit to our college community."

Lopez's most immediate focus is Saturday, when the DC team plays its first home lacrosse match in school history.

"I am very excited for the first home match. We have strong expectations for a first-year program. I have a lot of faith in teammates and my coaches."

Lopez was recruited to DC by Routt, who saw him play during his high school years.

"They recruited me and I visited the college my senior year. It felt like home immediately. The opportunity to play intercollegiate lacrosse was a bonus."

A criminal justice major, Lopez has career aspirations of working in law enforcement at the state or even federal level.

"My father is a police officer for the city of Chicago and that piqued my interest in law enforcement. I would like to become an FBI or Secret Service agent, or perhaps work for the state police in Illinois or Ohio."

In the meantime, Lopez is relishing life as a DC student-athlete.

"I tell my friends that I go over to the president's house to study and hang out every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights," said Lopez. "At all the other schools I visited, not once did I even meet the school president.

"I am very happy here," he concluded. "I love this place."

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