10/8/10 9:03 AM
By Jackie Branca
While most MLL players spend their off season either playing or coaching lacrosse, Matt Casey of the Boston Cannons, spends the colder months of the year teaching at Clary Middle School in the Syracuse City School District. Although Casey hadn’t always planned on being a teacher, he says after substituting in the spring of 2006 he realized the positive impact he could have on kids.
“When I graduated (from Ithaca) I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” Casey said. “I really enjoyed teaching that spring when I graduated. I realized the importance of being a teacher in an inner-city school, it allows me to be a role model for kids and provide them with a better chance to succeed.”
Casey isn’t your everyday, mainstream math or science teacher either; he teaches special needs students. In the past, he has taught students with severe disabilities, ranging in physical and intellectual disabilities.
“I enjoy teaching these kids because not a lot of people really understand or take the time to understand that kids with disabilities are very intelligent,” Casey said. “They can be just as successful if given special requirements and they are a lot of fun to watch grow.”
Currently, Casey has a group of students in an inclusion classroom. Meaning, the students have some disabilities but are socially able to handle going to class with the rest of their classmates, while seeking assistance from Casey with their schoolwork.
“In the summer I’m a professional athlete,” Casey said. “But I really enjoy teaching and being someone for these kids to look up to and I’m able to do that through lacrosse and as their teacher.”
While the majority of Casey’s students aren’t aware he is a professional athlete, there are a few who, once they find out their teacher plays in the MLL are in awe. “There are some kids who get mad at me for not having a mansion for them to come visit,” Casey joked.
Casey also volunteers as a basketball coach at an after school program, Building Men for Others. The program is aimed at providing young boys with positive male role models. “He’s great with the kids,” Casey’s co-worker Jake Fesco said. “He’s from the area so he can relate to these kids.”
Like many of the players in the league, Casey is interested in passing on his lacrosse knowledge to younger kids through camps, and relishing in the role as teacher. Although Casey doesn’t currently run any camps or clinics he is planning on starting some in the near future. “I’ve been debating how to approach the whole camp thing,” Casey said. “I like being able to pass on what I know to kids, especially those in the inner-city.”
On September 18, Casey had the opportunity to pass on that knowledge through a program called LEAPS (Lacrosse Education Attitude Perseverance Success) founded by former Cannons teammate John Christmas. The program’s mission is to enhance the lives of youths through lacrosse and education; all aimed at helping kids become more successful.
“We try and use lacrosse to develop a successful mentality,” Casey said. “It’s a means of success and I definitely want to start up my own camps soon.”
Once Casey starts his own camps, he will have less time in his schedule than he already does. When the season starts in the spring Casey’s free time diminishes significantly. As a teacher in New York and a professional athlete for a team in Boston, Casey has to manage his time accordingly. “I have to get my priorities together,” says Casey. “It puts everything into perspective and I manage my time a little better than say in November or December.”
For the spring months of the school year Casey’s weekends are full of travel and lacrosse. Monday through Friday Casey teaches from 7-2:30, but once Friday comes, he has to hurry out of New York by four or five to be in Boston for a nighttime practice or meet the team wherever they are playing that weekend. Games are on Saturday and Sunday is again, another day spent traveling back to New York to start the process over on Monday.
“Life doesn’t really stop from April to August,” says Casey. “But I really enjoy myself.”