Long Beach State alumnus Steve Sedano bubbled with excitement as he browsed through internet images of state-of-the-art training facilities, the inspiration for a project in South Central Los Angeles. He’s founded a nonprofit youth lacrosse organization named the LA Thunderbirds, with goals of involving the underprivileged youth of his hometown in the sport and plans to launch the team in the summer of 2018.
“I believe lacrosse should be available just like football, basketball [and] baseball,” Sedano said. “It isn’t because it’s expensive. We’re going to suit all these kids up for free. The only thing we ask back from them is that they strive to be the best they can be.”
The 22-year-old graduated from Long Beach in the spring of 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with an emphasis in biology. He became the youth representative for the District 8 southeast division right after graduating and has been active in the South Central area.
“I just want to use what I learned at my university to better the community,” Sedano said.
He was raised by a single mother and experienced poverty, homelessness and violence which has shaped his vision of providing a safe place to nurture student athletes.
“If anything I feel it’s necessary to talk about,” Sedano said. “Most of my friends that I grew up with are dead or in prison…You have to ask yourself how you became who you are, and the answer is opportunity.”
Sedano’s mother decided he would have better opportunities outside of the Los Angeles Unified School District, so she sent him to Downey High School. It was over an hour-long bus ride to school and back during his freshman year, a challenge that proved more difficult when he got involved in sports. He eventually began playing high school lacrosse and other sports, using competition as a brief escape from reality.
“The one thing I had going for me was that I was always angry,” Sedano said. “That’s how I got into sports and took that attitude on the field.”
Sedano then went to Long Beach City College for two years before transferring into Long Beach State. He decided to remove himself from his home and couch surfed until eventually graduating. The challenge was nothing new for him and after completing his education, Sedano set out to give back to his home community.
Sedano was connected with Eric Kim, who manages a for-profit manufacturing company and a nonprofit organization called Courage Forward. The latter helps veterans and at promise youth enter the job field. Kim quickly grew fond of Sedano and was taken aback by his past.
“It’s one of those stories that you don’t wish upon anyone, but for him, he has really used it to his advantage as a jumping-off point,” Kim said. “I am proud of him because of what he was able to accomplish given what he has gone through. His story is an inspirational one.”
Sedano brought up his vision of a youth lacrosse organization that would take care of all expenses, totalling an average of $1,300 per player. His involvement in high school lacrosse wasn’t the only inspiration for focusing on making that sport available to underprivileged youth in South Central.
“A lot of people don’t know that lacrosse is actually rooted in Native American tradition,” Sedano said. “It was played by Native Americans to honor their creator and that really stuck with me. I really fell in love with the whole religious and spiritual aspect of it.”
Tribes competed against each other to settle disputes and played as a remedy for diseases in the community. Problems like poverty and violence still exist in LA. Above everything, Sedano wants to be there for the kids who are growing up in similar hardships triggered by poverty, crime and homelessness.
“I couldn’t look up to my father because he wasn’t there, I couldn’t look up to my brothers because they were alcoholics and drug addicts, I didn’t have anyone in the community,” Sedano said. “I am going to give these kids the opportunity I didn’t have; the things and the role models that they need in order to flourish in the world.”
With help from Kim, the LA Thunderbirds is becoming a more realistic dream every day. They have gained serious interest from major corporations in the South Central area looking to get behind the effort. Sedano is currently making a case with the city to be approved for a lot on the corner of Vermont and Manchester street, where the organization’s facilities would be built. It would include full-sized fields, a strength and conditioning center and educational space for the student athletes to do classwork.
“I thought it was a great idea to expose the youth of this area to the sport because of the growing scholarship opportunities,” Kim said. “For him to have the foresight to see this opportunity coming says a lot about him and who he is.”
The program is only a few months away from launching. Sedano plans on inviting some of the game’s most talented players to the grand opening, making it a major event for the sport and its growth on the West Coast. Sedano’s vision for not only the sport he loves, but the struggling youth of his community, is ready to take off.
“The thing is that you need to know within yourself that you can do it and that’s what we also plan to instill in our athletes,” Sedano said. “If I say no then I’m saying that the kids where I grew up don’t have talent and don’t deserve the opportunity. That’s ‘B.S.’ Everyone deserves that.”