Student Profile: Dy-Jae Pearson
“Making the best of the worst situations is what makes you, you. Coming out of the projects and then making something of myself, like, going to a great college, playing lacrosse, and making something of my life – that’s what makes me, me.”
In summer 2015, award-winning film directors Daniel and Katina Mercadantes profiled Dy-Jae for Dick’s Sporting Goods’ national “Sports Matter” marketing campaign, featuring Harlem Lacrosse. The filmmakers chose to focus their efforts on Dy-Jae because of his charisma, warmth and exceptional life story. His quote above from the Director’s Cut, which featured him exclusively, is his reflection on his life, motivation, and the effect that lacrosse has had on his life. He was 15 years old at the time going into his junior year at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem.
About six months later, we asked Dy-Jae to speak at a Harlem Lacrosse event in Baltimore. I again had the privilege of a glimpse into his life, this time through helping him prepare his speech. When he began playing lacrosse halfway through his seventh grade year, many of his teammates had a year and a half of experience and he started off with the sixth grade group. A few months later, the coach gave him a chance to play with the more advanced seventh and eighth graders. The coach told him he would be in the older group from that point on. According to Dy-Jae, it wasn’t what the coach said, but his hard work to get to that point that felt so good at the time.
Dy-Jae continued to develop into one of the best student-athletes on the middle school lacrosse team. He applied to boarding schools as an eighth grader and was accepted to Hun with a full financial aid package. All of the hard work had paid off – avoiding the pitfalls of his old friends in Brooklyn, adjusting to a new environment and school, fighting through scraped knees and elbows on the handball court. But in August his mom decided that he was too young to live away from home and also needed to help take care of the younger family members. Dy-Jae would remain at FDA while many of his friends who he worked so hard to catch up to went off to their new schools.
Dy-Jae was crushed and had every reason to quit. He almost did. His first three semesters of high school were so rough that he was academically ineligible for his sophomore lacrosse season. At some point he recommitted to making the most of the opportunities he did have. Maybe it was when he realized he had already made it through the most important crossroads of his life after he went back to visit his old neighborhood in Brooklyn to find out that many of his old friends were in gangs or in jail. One of the kids he hung out with was in the hospital after being shot, again a casualty from the crossfire of a shootout.
The next marking period he had an 80% average and from that point forward he maintained a laser focus on becoming an elite student-athlete. His academic performance has only improved and he became the unquestioned leader, heart and soul of the entire Harlem Lacrosse program.
Fast forward 2 years, Dy-Jae played his first season of competitive football and garnered recruiting attention from Division 1 football programs. He was named captain of the Frederick Douglass Academy varsity lacrosse team, led the team to win the New York City championship, and earned All-American honors. He gained acceptance to Blair Academy, an elite independent boarding school, for a postgraduate year to continue his academic and athletic development. By the end of the summer, he was a highly sought-after lacrosse recruit. During his Fall football season at Blair, he committed to play both varsity football and varsity lacrosse at Bryant University, becoming the first Harlem Lacrosse student-athlete to participate in Division 1 athletics.
We were fortunate on March 9th to bring 60 students, 5 coaches and 8 family members from Harlem to Long Island to watch Dy-Jae and Bryant Men's Lacrosse play Stony Brook to a closely contested one-goal game.
Dy-Jae took several runs as a long stick midfielder over the course of the game. He made a great play to clear the ball to his team’s offensive end right as we were all being seated. That generated some great energy from Dy-Jae’s cheering section right behind the Bryant bench that lasted the entire game.
After the game, the current HL student-athletes swarmed Dy-Jae as he walked from the team’s locker room to the bus and posed for a group photo. Before he left, Dy-Jae had a quick message for the group:
“I come from the same place as all of you. If you keep working, good things will come to you too.”
It is fitting that Dy-Jae is the student-athlete who represents Harlem Lacrosse, and ultimately, as is the commercial’s intention, represents what youth sports in America should be.