Tim Heckman (TH) and Alex Coombs (AC) serve as co-founders and co-directors of the newly-formed Harlem Jets Lacrosse Program, launched to introduce lacrosse to boys and girls in Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods in New York City through fundamental and skill-based training.
What sparked an interest to add a lacrosse team to your Jets organization?
(TH) Alex has been with the Harlem Jets organization since 2009, serving as a coach and as the director, and he has wanted to start a lacrosse program for about eight years. He is very passionate about bringing non-traditional sports to the inner-city youth. Alex and I initially met at a high school in the South Bronx, where he was the strength and conditioning coach and I was coaching the boys’ varsity lacrosse team. We have been friends for about seven years and I’ve joined the non-profit organization he co-founded, called About U Outreach. Now we are proud to bring his lacrosse vision into reality.
How is education incorporated in your organization?
(AC) At the Harlem Jets we have a mandatory academic policy which includes a written release by the parents to give us access to school grades for the entire year. We have a grade monitoring system in place to help track all of our student athletes. We also assist in middle school, high school, and college placement, along with providing standardized test prep.
What is the Harlem Jets about? How did it start?
(TH) The Harlem Jets organization was founded by Harlem native Jamel “Coach Mel’ Wright in 2005. Jamel spearheaded a group of fathers with 9-year old sons who were looking for a better-organized tackle football experience. Coach Mel and his wife, Twinique, led a team of about 35 volunteers that were mostly parents. Since its founding in 2005, they’ve built the Jets into a significant community organization and national powerhouse and expanded their offerings to include not only off-season conditioning, but also wrestling, basketball, competitive cheerleading, and now, lacrosse. It’s a non-profit, after-school organization that uses academic enrichment programs and sports as a way to keep youth, ages 5-18, academically motivated and physically fit.
How important is it to have an organization like yours to be a part of Harlem and the community?
(AC) Our program plays a pivotal role in this community. We take pride in surrounding our kids with positive and successful men and women who help nurture and develop the kids through sports. Our organization aims to become an extension of their family tree. The Jets provide mentoring services, life-skills enrichment and prep/private school placement advice and counseling. Since its founding, we have served almost 3,000 kids and are currently serving more than 300 children in New York City area.
How important is it for athletes to be athletically diverse?
(TH & AC) The sports environment has become saturated with the concept of specialization starting at the youth level. We believe that the path towards healthy physical development is through the exposure and participation in multiple extracurricular activities. Both of us were multi-sport athletes since the age of five years old, including participation in baseball, volleyball, football, basketball, track & field, and lacrosse. The more activities you try, the more athletic qualities you develop, making you an overall stronger athlete.
Alex, you have expressed how excited you are to have your son & daughter be a part of the Jets. Is this something you ever saw yourself being a part of?
(AC) Yes, as a multisport athlete I was always attracted to the game of lacrosse. Unfortunately, lacrosse wasn’t an option for me in Harlem or at my high school. I knew that if I was ever in a position of power or influence, I would bring lacrosse to more Black and Latino kids. Now, I not only have that opportunity to bring it to the boys and girls of the community, but I can also bring it to my own children.
Tim, you are bringing your lacrosse background into the mix to help start the Harlem Jets Lacrosse Program. What is a top goal for yourself as a coach for the Jets?
(TH) I want the girls and boys of the program to learn how to use sport, and not let sport use them. The Jets organization looks to develop the whole person, not just the athletic component, and we plan on carrying that tradition with the lacrosse program. That starts from building a culture within the program, and having energetic, passionate, and positive coaches who are bought in and make the program stronger. When that foundation exists, you get buy in from the parents and the athletes, and then a dynamic community develops. We want to be there with our student athletes from the youth level, through high school and college, and into their professional lives, providing guidance, support, and positivity throughout. Once a Jet, always a Jet.