ESPN Films documentary profiles Montreat Lacrosse players

Tom Flynn
Special To The Black Mountain News

On Aug. 23, ESPN aired the documentary “Crossroads” about a one-of-a-kind high school lacrosse program at Charlotte Secondary School, a charter high-school school based in Charlotte.

The film told the inspiring story of at-risk students finding their way to the lacrosse team at Charlotte Secondary, and in turn building the skills needed on the field and away from it to face formidable challenges in their home lives. Many of the players came from families where drug usage or crime has had a major impact on their young lives.

In 2015, at the time that Charlotte Secondary’s program was getting off the ground, Montreat men’s lacrosse team was first taking shape 125 miles to the northwest.

Brandon Duncan, who was featured in the ESPN Films documentary "Crossroads," played in 11 games for the Montreat Cavaliers last season and was named second team All-Appalachian Athletic Conference.

The Charlotte Secondary program was founded by Teddy Walker, the former athletic director at the school who tragically passed away in 2017. Walker felt the school needed extracurricular activities to keep the students engaged beyond the classroom.

Through an equipment grant from U.S. Lacrosse, it received the gear needed to start a team. What it lacked after it arrived was a coach.  

Walker reached out within the school community and serendipity led to Bobby Selkin, an area ophthalmologist who wanted a change of pace from his work as a laser eye surgeon.

He had experience with the sport through coaching at the youth level, and embraced the opportunity to develop the student’s lacrosse abilities, and as the documentary reveals, improving their lives overall.  

James Verdier III led the NAIA in saves with 201 in the 2017-18 lacrosse season as a freshman.

As the programs at Charlotte Secondary and Montreat College began to take shape, a relationship was forged between the two schools via their respective lacrosse coaches. In one scene in the film, Montreat’s lacrosse program founder Will McMinn offers Charlotte Secondary’s Brandon Duncan the opportunity to play for the Cavaliers.

Duncan is heavily featured in the documentary. As a close defenseman – one of three defensive specialists who wield six-foot long lacrosse sticks and typically stay in their own zone – Duncan was named a second-team All-Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) player in 2018.

“The players started later in life because they’re a new program. They’re maybe sophomores, junior, or seniors, when they pick up a stick,” said Montreat’s current director of lacrosse, Ethan Kamholtz. “They get overlooked because they’re a club team in North Carolina. It worked out that Brandon was able to go to community college first and then come in – in the spring of 2017 – and right off the bat make a huge impact.”

Players like those who come out of Charlotte Secondary are also frequently overlooked because they aren’t from the typical lacrosse backgrounds that can sometimes rigidly define the sport.

As the sport works to shake its image as a pursuit primarily of affluent white suburbanites, through efforts such as the U.S. Lacrosse grant, perceptions among recruiting coaches are slowly changing.  

Under Kamholtz, the relationship begun by McMinn has continued to flourish. The head coach enters his second year leading the Cavaliers and is a former All-American goalie from Liberty University, which fields a Division I team in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA).

Five former Charlotte Secondary players now wear the navy and gold of the Cavaliers. They include freshmen Brendan Riney and La’warren Hall, sophomores James Verdier III and Jacari Roberts, and junior Brandon Duncan.

Kamholtz played an important role in recruiting Verdier, a goalie now entering his second season with Montreat. As a freshman this past spring, the goalie led the entire National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) with 201 total saves.

Duncan and Verdier had a key hand in the Cavaliers posting their best season to date in 2017-18, one that saw them win six games, and qualify for the postseason for the first time since the program began in 2015.

Is there a common reaction among the Charlotte Secondary players to making the adjustment from an urban setting to the rural, mountainous portion of the state?

“I would say they’re all happy they’re here because they’re out of the environment they were in,” said Kamholtz. The head coach points out Jacari Roberts, who attended community college to earn his way to Montreat and red-shirted upon arrival, as a prime example of a student-athlete making good at his opportunity with the Cavaliers. “He believes he’s here to make a better life for himself as he has some buddies [back home] who have already passed away,” added Kamholtz.

In 2018, after filming of the documentary was completed, Charlotte Secondary went on to win the high school club state championship in just its fourth year.

“It’s pretty cool that they were able to do that so fast and I think a lot of it had to do with the bond that they established,” said Kamholtz. “You see in the documentary how powerful that team is. They’re solid together and their coach fostered that brotherhood mentality and it goes a long way.”