Having spent most of her youth as a soccer player, Hannah Merlo was a complete lacrosse novice when she was first introduced to the sport as a high school freshman in Highland Falls, N.Y. In fact, she chuckles at her own naivete when recounting her start. “I didn’t know anything about it,” she says. “I thought it was water polo.”

Today, Merlo is far from being that novice, having played lacrosse throughout both high school and college, and coached for many years on the youth and high school level. In addition to continuing to be an active post-collegiate player, she has become an ambassador for the game and is seeking to grow it in Florida.

“There are no sanctioned high school programs in Volusia County,” says Merlo, who works as athletic coordinator for the Port Orange Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re trying to get it started.”

Last January, with the aid of a US Lacrosse Soft Stick Grant, Merlo initiated a four-week clinic series through the recreation department to introduce the game to boys’ and girls’ in the area. About 100 kids participated. 

That same month, Merlo also attended the US Lacrosse Convention for the first time, having applied for and received a coaches’ diversity convention scholarship. She says that her convention experience motivated her to forge ahead in growing the game.

“LaxCon gave me the fire to go forward with the clinics, and to also figure out how to tweak them for the kids from week to week,” she said. “We built a progression through the series but stayed focused on fundamentals and fun.”

As US Lacrosse prepares for this year’s convention, hosted January 10-12, 2020 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, it is once again offering diversity scholarships for qualified candidates wishing to attend the event. 

The scholarships are intended to provide funds to deserving leaders in the lacrosse community who require financial assistance in order to pursue additional professional development opportunities in coaching. Eligible coaches include those who provide lacrosse programming for underserved or underrepresented youth. 

Merlo says that being a part of the sport’s premier educational and networking event for lacrosse coaches, officials and administrators, was an invaluable experience.

“I would do it 1,000 times over. It was one of the greatest decisions that I ever made,” she says.

Port Orange is committed to adding lacrosse as a youth sports offering and is initiating that process with another round of free clinics for kids this year.

“Most folks around here still have no concept of lacrosse, but we’re trying to raise the awareness,” Merlo says. 

Diversity scholarship winners are provided with free registration for the US Lacrosse Convention and a travel stipend of up to $500 to attend the event. Interested candidates can access the online application at uslacrosse.org/diversity-inclusion/convention-scholarships.  

Applications must be received by Friday, October 18, 2019 at 5 pm EST. Any application submitted after the deadline will not be considered. 

“Coaches and officials are critically important in promoting and preserving game integrity, which is essential to a quality lacrosse experience,” said Eboni Preston-Laurent, senior manager for diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse. “Our organizational commitment of resources to train and educate coaches who work with underrepresented youth continues to be a priority as we cultivate future leaders.”

Diversity Scholarships

Diversity scholarship winners are provided with free registration for the US Lacrosse Convention and a travel stipend to attend the event.

Apply Today