As a freshman at Elmont Memorial High School more than a decade ago, Stevens Cadet wanted to play football and baseball. But when his two coaches conferred about the young two-sport prospect, they decided lacrosse would be a better fit for him than baseball.
“I didn’t know anything about the game,” Cadet said, “but after I learned the basics, I fell in love with it.”
Last month, Haiti’s first national lacrosse team named Cadet, now 25, its first pick and announced that he would be the team’s captain. With his selection, Haiti became the newest member of the Federation of International Lacrosse.
When he heard his name called, Cadet said, he felt excited and relieved that all of his hard work had paid off, and that he would represent his parents’ native country. As he celebrated the start of a new career with Team Haiti, it was nearly impossible to believe that he had quit the game during his senior year at Elmont High.
Elmont varsity lacrosse coach James Carretta said the team was in a slump when Cadet joined. “Not a lot of students took notice of it,” he said. But after Cadet and his friends took charge, it thrived.
“He was one of the foundations that we needed to bring the program back to life,” Carretta said.
In his junior year, Cadet became an offensive and defensive powerhouse and played in the Martin Luther King Tri-State All-Stars Tournament, which earned him multiple scholarship offers from Division I and II universities across the country. But the victory meant more to Cadet than the offers, because it was the last time his father watched him play.
On Jan. 27, 2010, his father died of a heart attack. His death shook Stevens. As his family’s only son, he quit lacrosse to help provide for them. Carretta said he respected Cadet’s commitment to his family, because the coach had encountered a similar situation in his own life. But he and Cadet’s friends and family wanted Cadet to play lacrosse to see just how far he could go.
“I wanted him to get an education and to keep playing,” Carretta said. “This is somebody who’s going to be a somebody.”
The coach needed three months to persuade Cadet to attend college. Because he had announced publicly that he was quitting the game, nearly all of his scholarship offers were withdrawn. But one college, Ohio Valley University, in West Virginia, kept up with him, sending him condolence letters and asking him to visit. It was the last college that Cadet and his father were supposed to have visited before his dad’s death.
The school was welcoming, Cadet said, so he signed on to the program. Then reality bit again. He was the lacrosse program’s first African-American player, and a teammate hurled racial slurs at him. Officials’ failure to react, he said, made him feel uncomfortable, so he followed a family friend’s advice and left.
Because of Division II protocols, Cadet had to sit out the season after leaving Ohio Valley for Genesee Community College in upstate New York, so he focused on academics, studying psychology. But he couldn’t stay away from the field. He practiced alone most nights, remembering the words that his father had once told him to live by.
“He used to say, ‘Show me who you are when no one is looking,’”Cadet said.
But someone was looking. One night, a security guard spotted Cadet. After hearing his story, the guard spoke to the lacrosse coach, who signed Cadet up to play for the GCC Cougars. Although Cadet didn’t expect much, he was soon surrounded by several top players in the National Junior College Athletic Association. His competitive spirit was reignited as the team rose to the final four in the NJCAA, taking on the Onondaga Community College Lazers in the 2012 NJCAA Lax Championship game in Nassau County. Though the Cougars lost, Cadet still felt honored to play in his first championship game back home.
After finishing his studies, he attended the University of the District of Columbia, where a new lacrosse program had recently been started by professional players Scott Urik and Rodger Colbert. Colbert, now the team’s head coach, called Cadet one the program’s prime founders, who helped the team beat the nationally ranked Mercy College Mavericks in a conference game — the squad’s biggest accomplishment to date.
“Players like him are the reason I decided to be a coach,” Colbert said. “They’re always looking for what’s next.”
Looking to 2022
After graduation, Cadet volunteered at a training camp run by Paul Rabil, whom Cadet described as the Lebron James of lacrosse. When Rabil asked Cadet about his future aspirations, Cadet said that he wanted to play for the Long Island Lizards lacrosse team. But Rabil thought another team might need Cadet’s talent.
“When I told him that I was Haitian-American, he told me that Haiti just so happened to start setting up their own national team for the Federation of International Lacrosse,” Cadet said.
The squad will take part in friendly games with other countries and attend several training camps in Georgia next year. As Cadet prepares for this new stage of his life, he said he couldn’t help but think that his role with Team Haiti fits perfectly within his life’s
“I was a part of so many firsts,” he said, “and in 2022, I’ll be playing in our first championship games.”