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Collegiate commitment has deeper meaning for Academy Park’s Dayana Allen

Academy Park senior Dayana Allen signs with Howard University to play lacrosse during a ceremony at school last Thursday. Allen will be the first lacrosse player from Academy Park to play the sport at the Division I level.

Dayana Allen understands what it means to be the first female athlete of color from Academy Park High School to sign on to play lacrosse at the Division I collegiate level. Allen will continue her career at historic Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Last Thursday’s signing ceremony inside the school auditorium was a big moment for Allen and her family, as well as Knights coach Susan Reutter, who started the lacrosse program in 2010.

Allen was happy to see her club coach, Eyekonz Field Hockey & Lacrosse founder Jazmine Smith, who was a three-sport athlete at Radnor High, alongside the great Tina Sloan Green in attendance for her special day. Sloan Green is a U.S. National Lacrosse Hall of Fame member. She was the first Black woman to play for the United States field hockey team (1969-73) and, at Temple, she was the first Black woman to coach a collegiate lacrosse program.

“I am hoping that people younger than me will see what I’m doing and see me as one of the first, so they know that it’s possible, that they can do it, too,” Allen said. “And for it to come out of Academy Park is even more special to me because it’s something you don’t see every day.  I think it could give the students here a lot of hope.”

Allen is one of a scant number of female athletes from Academy Park to play a Division I sport. The most recent was Mercedes Vaughn, who played volleyball for Tennessee in 2012.

“I told her, ‘I want people to look at her and think if she can do it, I can do it. All of those girls that come after you can be your legacy.’ She is leading the way,” Reutter said. “There was a buzz around school last week. I brought my class down and the kids said, ‘Is she really D1?’ You could tell that the kids had immediate respect for her.”

Allen was a student in Reutter’s pre-calculus and calculus classes.

“She’s a great person,” Reutter said.

Allen, who plays attack for the Knights, began her lacrosse training in the sixth grade for Eyekonz Field Hockey and Lacrosse. Per its mission statement, Eyekonz was founded “to serve the needs of young African-American Latina and Latino girls & boys ages 5-18 in the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond.”

Allen felt a connection to the sport from day one.

“I think it’s starting to become more popular because young people are seeing the opportunities that come with it and how it is different. It’s not an every day sport that is all over the media,” Allen said. “I could see the growth in the sport since I started at a young age. For the team that I’m on, the Eyekonz, it’s a team for Black girls from the Philadelphia area. If you think about it, you really don’t see a lot of Black girls playing lacrosse. Eyekonz is a platform to give Black girls the same opportunities as everybody else.”

In addition, Allen’s club program has helped her mature as a person, to have a voice in the community and to stand up to racial injustices.

“As a person Eyekonz really gave me the confidence level and it gave me a voice. We don’t just focus on playing lacrosse, we do other things outside of it,” she said. “A couple of years ago we did a march for Black women who were affected by police brutality. The whole team sort of put that together and the coaches stepped aside. Coach Jaz really wants us to have a voice and really wants us to have our own opinions, to not be afraid to put it out there. She really prepares us for the world right now and for the future.”

Allen wants to pursue a degree in psychology at Howard. Thursday’s ceremony “was cool, but also overwhelming” because everyone was taking her picture. It meant a lot to Allen that Sloan Green was present.

“She always comes out to support us. It was really important to have her there because she is history and the girls from Eyekonz are her legacy,” Allen said.

Allen’s impact on the sport of lacrosse at Academy Park will last for years. In her final season she just wants to cherish every moment and to help her teammates become better lacrosse players.

“The No. 1 goal is to always have fun, to be with my teammates and making memories,” she said. “It’s emotional. It’s been so long since I started and now it’s my last season in high school. I want to make the most of it.”

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