Kandemiri: Reflecting on Pride Weekend in ATL
By Tari Kandemiri | Jun 21, 2021
Atlanta is well-known for a few key characteristics, for example peaches, lemon pepper wings, and of course, the futuristic funky music of hip-hop duo OutKast. This past weekend, the Premier Lacrosse League’s teams took the field in Atlanta for a second time—a momentous occasion for Atlanta’s very own. Scott Ratliff, Myles Jones, and Ryan Drenner are well-known within the lacrosse circles of Atlanta—coaching elite teams and representing the city, and the state of Georgia, with pride. During an especially sunny weekend, lacrosse fans from near and far donned sunglasses and sunscreen to come and cheer, especially for their Atlanta-based favorites.
For fans, the opportunity to watch live lacrosse is one that’s been long-awaited. For Atlanta native Fiona Stockton, the opportunity to watch strong lacrosse with an electric crowd was a welcome sight, particularly seeing “so many children there supporting the sport” as well as “their favorite team [or] player.” Young players found this to be an opportunity to see not only the players they look up to, but also their coaches flex their skills as professionals. Ryan Drenner, 2019 PLL All-Star and Cannons attackman, is the Manager for 3d Lacrosse in Georgia, providing opportunities for young players in the state to learn the sport and expand their skills throughout the year. A player in Drenner’s program emphasized the importance of seeing his coach on the sport’s biggest stage, finding it extremely inspiring to see him make his mark on the league.
In a sport where many of the biggest names are from northern states, the importance of having active, big-name players rooted in Georgia is not lost on people. Scott Ratliff, long stick midfielder for the Archers, grew up in Atlanta and was the first player from Georgia on the Loyola Greyhounds men’s lacrosse team. A fixture in the international and local lacrosse scene, Ratliff is well-known for his work through his non-profit, The Give & Go Foundation, as well as coaching at Greater Atlanta Christian high school and with the Thunder Lacrosse Club. The opportunity to play in front of family and friends was “an added element of support and pride,” a sentiment echoed by his mother Jill. To Jill, cheering on her son meant “everything,” particularly because the family does not get to see him play often. She described her son as “a true champion for the sport in Atlanta,” a recognition shown through his dedication to growing the sport in the area. Ratliff considers next steps for the game’s growth to be “developing fans of the college and pro game,” including the expansion of programs into SEC schools so engagement and participation increase. With the recent announcement of Clemson adding women’s lacrosse for the 2022-2023 season, it seems the South has its sights set on growing the game even more.
Though the stage was set for PLL’s athletes to make some dazzling plays on the field, the league also designated the weekend as “Pride Weekend,” partnering with non-profit organization Athletes Ally to raise money for and support more inclusive athletic communities. With Saturday’s games falling on the 5-year anniversary of the Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting, the initiative felt even more important. The league’s stance against LGBTQ+ discrimination and violence was displayed through a special edition shirt, but also through pride tape, which athletes wrapped around their sticks to show support. Archers defensive midfielder Mark McNeill was seen with the tape in promotional videos leading up to the weekend, and cited the tape’s mission as a “badge of support from teammates, coaches, parents and pros to young LGBTQ+ players.”. McNeill believes the tape goes beyond merely adorning the stick by bringing awareness to groups facing discrimination and sending “a message of inclusivity and acceptance” to the community. He continues to educate himself on topics and issues within the LGBTQ+ community, growing into a stronger ally, and speaking up against prejudices to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those around him.
To sum it up perfectly, “No one should be pushed away from the sport they love because of who they are.” A thought so simple and welcoming, and an ethos we can all follow to ensure our fellow fans can enjoy lacrosse to its fullest extent. In Atlanta, with the music blasting full-force, the sun shining strong, and the fans rallying for their favorite teams, we all came together and enjoyed a long-awaited weekend of the PLL in ATL.