No matter how far life takes him, Tony McDevitt still finds himself back home in Northeast Philly every summer.
At 28, he lives in New York City and makes a very nice living as a managing director at CapRok Capital, a financial company in Westchester County, N.Y. Before that, he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Duke University, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. With a Wall Street job waiting for him when he finished college, the last place one might expect to find McDevitt is back in the Northeast.
But one thing keeps pulling him back to the area like a magnet: lacrosse.
On May 30 and 31, McDevitt returned to Archbishop Ryan, where he spent one year as a student before transferring to Penn Charter. The recipient of a football scholarship, the Millbrook native and Our Lady of Calvary graduate ended up falling in love with lacrosse, a burgeoning — but intensely regional — game that hadn’t gained the popularity in Philadelphia that it had in places like New York, Maryland and Virginia.
Lacrosse was why McDevitt was back for the seventh consecutive year as the organizer of Philly’s Finest Lacrosse Camp. In his first year of the camp, McDevitt had about 30 kids; now, annual participation has swelled to three times that. The growth of the sport in the Philly area is what brings him back each year. For someone who has accomplished so much in the game despite not picking up a stick until he was 15, McDevitt’s objective is to teach kids the necessary lacrosse skills at even younger ages.
“Lacrosse is growing all over the place, including Northeast Philadelphia,” McDevitt said on the second night of the camp, mostly comprised of first-through eighth-graders. “The message I preach is to play everything. You don’t need to be a specialist in grade school. Do it all. Find out what you like and you’ll see what you’re good at.”
McDevitt also played football and basketball and wrestled at Penn Charter, but it was lacrosse that led him to Duke, where he became a three-time All-American on defense. He sees the annual trip to Ryan each summer as his small part in the exponential explosion of lacrosse at high schools and colleges across America. Once kids become aware of the sport and all it offers, McDevitt maintains, they’ll be hooked.
“For me, lacrosse mixes the best aspects of every sport,” he said. “The aggressive nature of football, the conditioning level of soccer, the defensive spacing and communication of basketball and hockey … all of those, to me, make it a no-brainer.”
Slowly but surely, as lacrosse becomes available in more locales, youngsters are agreeing with McDevitt. While equipment costs can be sky high for some families (a helmet and stick alone can run you around $400), the learning curve is much less challenging. Players can practice stick handling, throwing and catching against a brick wall by themselves. There are also no physical limitations, meaning there are adaptable styles for each player, no matter the body type.
With interest as high as it’s ever been, this year McDevitt transitioned Philly’s Finest to a nonprofit organization. The only cost of the camp was a small registration fee for insurance purposes, and now that he’s doing well financially, McDevitt spoke of wanting to put his own money into establishing a stipend or scholarship for kids to attend high school and play lacrosse down the line. Lacrosse has been a huge instrument for success in his own life, and McDevitt wants kids to realize the same benefits the sport offered him, but at a much earlier age.
“Lacrosse is huge in my life, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” he said. “It’s a big reason why I got to go to Duke. I want these kids to have the same experience I did. We already have a lot of good players out here from Northeast Philly, guys who have improved so much year to year. What I tell them is, ‘we’re a team, and you have me on your side. We’re all in it together.’”
As he’s done over the years, McDevitt brought in experienced camp counselors to help out. Among them were Kevin McDevitt, his 22-year-old younger brother and president of the men’s lacrosse program at West Chester University; Jack Skeels, a former teammate of Kevin McDevitt’s and current member of the Montclair State lacrosse team in Northern New Jersey; and Ryan Foley, who just graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where he was a lacrosse captain.
Whether they started playing at a young age, like Foley and Skeels, or not until later on, as in the case of both McDevitt brothers, the message remained the same.
“You never know what you’ll get from it until you try it,” Kevin said. “A kid who isn’t good at football won’t know he’s maybe good at lacrosse until he picks up a stick. It’s a sport for anyone: big guys, small guys … it doesn’t really matter.”
“You look back when you started and the guys that helped you, and you just want to be that influence for these kids,” Foley said. “It’s a way for Tony to give back to his community, and it’s a way to meet special people. For me, lacrosse got me a top-grade education at a special place like Notre Dame, guided by people who have a specific vision for the sport and its culture.”
Or, as Skeels put it, “The camp shirts some of us are wearing say ‘Opportunity’ on them. That’s what we’re trying to tell these kids; not only is it a huge opportunity for your future, but you’ll love the sport, too.”
When he left to go back to New York that Friday evening, McDevitt had a big smile on his face, which is the case every year. He hopes that lacrosse continues to grow in Northeast Philly and beyond so that he still has a yearly reason to come back to his hometown.
“The Northeast holds a special place in my heart,” he said. “The message here is very clear: lacrosse can be a means to an end, something that will provide structure in a kid’s life, something that keeps you out of trouble. I want them to play in high school and college and get the same experience I did. I remember being them 20 years ago, and I would have loved to have this opportunity at that age. I’ve got a busy life, but I wouldn’t change this for the world.” ••