Isaiah Davis-Allen isn’t your average lacrosse player.
The Maryland grad is a premier short-stick defensive midfielder in professional lacrosse, has won championships everywhere he has been and was recently named Major League Lacrosse’s 2020 David Huntley Man of the Year.
The 25-year-old Davis-Allen, who plays for the Chesapeake Bayhawks and lives in Fells Point, is also a Black man in a game predominately played by white athletes in a time when that particular distinction seems more important than ever.
“You want to leave the sport better than when you came in and I realized I wasn’t doing that by not saying anything,” Davis said. “We’re definitely pushing forward and that’s something you’re seeing in the sport of lacrosse that you haven’t seen before.”
Because of his proficiency with that short stick and because he also coaches the sport to youth throughout the region, Davis-Allen is in a unique position to pave the way for the next generation of minority athletes in the game he loves. Davis-Allen, who grew up in Springfield, Va., coaches for Nation United, an elite lacrosse team that features mostly minority players to champion diversity in the sport.
He has coached in Prince George’s County youth leagues, introducing young Black people to the sport. Davis-Allen’s growing coaching resume also includes clinic instructor for Next Level Spartans, a lacrosse club focused on player development and building character.
Those are big pieces of why Davis-Allen was honored by his sport with the Huntley Man of the Year Award, presented each year to the individual who has demonstrated outstanding sportsmanship, professionalism and service to his community. The award was named after the late MLL coach who passed away in 2017.
That recognized service also includes “ID-A” reading to children at local schools and volunteering at John Hopkins Hospital, altruistic pursuits that made him the Senior CLASS Award winner in 2017 while a Terrapin. It’s an honor reserved for the senior student-athlete who best exemplifies work and success in the community and classroom and through character and competition.
Davis-Allen was the just the second Maryland athlete to ever earn that award, joining Baltimore basketball star Juan Dixon, who won in 2002.
Terrapin lacrosse coach John Tillman certainly wasn’t surprised Major League Lacrosse recognized his two-time All-American.
“He’s a special guy,” Tillman said. “There’s something about Isaiah. He’s a guy that just seems to get it. He’s very good with people. He can relate to anybody. He’s a really good listener. His emotional intelligence is off the charts. As a captain for us he was always so selfless and dedicated to the team.”
MLL commissioner Sandy Brown is also a fan.
“Isaiah’s impact in our sport continues to grow,” Brown said. “While consistently a top player league-wide, it is Isaiah’s achievements off of the MLL field that resonate with so many. He aims to serve a purpose beyond himself, whether it’s service, coaching or leading this sport into a more inclusive and opportunistic future.”
Ask Davis-Allen what the award means to him, though, and he starts pedaling back like a great defender.
“The first thing I wanted to do was thank everyone that helped me get to that point as far as coaches, teammates, volunteers — specifically PG County, that whole program that gave me the opportunity to give back. It has been special for me,” Davis-Allen said.
Davis-Allen’s roots in lacrosse run deep. He picked up the game early on thanks to his uncle Maurice Davis, an all-state prep school player in New Jersey who went on to play at Rutgers. His early coaches also had a great impact, then once he moved on to St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes (Alexandria, Va.), coach Andy Tiabi and later Tillman helped mold him into a dominant force on the field and further inspired him to give back to the game.
“Taking time, especially with high school-aged kids you really feel them listening when you get them engaged,” Davis-Allen said. “I feel like that’s when I do some of my best work. Giving them the opportunity to ask questions, to pick my brain about my experiences and where I see them going athletically and academically.”
Davis-Allen makes time for younger athletes around his lacrosse career in MLL with Chesapeake, in the National Lacrosse League with the Philadelphia Wings and in his day job as a project engineer for Buch Construction. In that last capacity, he usually drives a truck around the metro area, though he’s much more famous for running around town on his Harley Davidson. That’s an affinity he picked up from his grandfather, who raced motorcycles back in the day.
“I love it, having your head in the wind,” he said. “Putting your phone down and it’s just you, the bike and the road.”
Davis-Allen likes getting away like that, but he doesn’t shy away from the issues of the day. He is one of just four African Americans in MLL along with Kris Alleyne of the Connecticut Hammerheads, Mark Ellis of the New York Lizards and Chad Toliver of the Philadelphia Barrage. Those four stood together in late July at midfield of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium during the national anthem as the abbreviated MLL season began, their other teammates on the sidelines all to show support for Black Lives Matter.
Davis-Allen acknowledges the “big, national conversation” about race and athletics, and he has taken a more active role this year, though he hasn’t let it alter his focus.
“I think for me it hasn’t changed what I’ve done a lot. I think as far as being a little bit more vocal, that’s something I’ve tried to get better at and bring more light to the whole situation,” Davis-Allen said. “As far as my action, what I’m doing in the community, that hasn’t changed at all because this obviously has become mainstream, but honestly this has been going on forever.”
So, what’s the answer? Davis-Allen’s solution has always been staying on track in school.
“Education, education, education,” he said. “If you can keep these kids in athletics and academics and [activities] outside of school, then you won’t have a lot of these problems. I want to give them the opportunity to play sports, to reach out and ask questions. The cool thing about our sport is that even if you’re a pro athlete you’re still accessible. I’ve really tried to hammer that home to the kids. I pick up my phone, I answer on Instagram. I reach back out.”
Gravitating early on to sports like hockey and swimming and then lacrosse, Davis-Allen has often found himself a minority in competition and in the locker room.
“I was used to being the only person of color and as I started to get older more and more things started happening and I built on different experiences,” he said. “For me, anytime someone says I can’t do it or has a reason why it’s not my sport or tries to give me a hard time, it makes me want to try harder and prove people wrong.”
Davis-Allen has dealt with racism enough to let offensive “words roll off [his] back.” As far as helping younger Black athletes, he shares his experiences, how he has dealt with such incidents and addresses situations as they occur. Those situations weren’t always acknowledged by his peers when he was coming up through the ranks.
“Now people are starting to say stuff and making [lacrosse] more inclusive,” he added.
Davis-Allen is at the forefront of positive change. His family — father Frank Allen and mother Audrey Davis, who was taken by cancer when Isaiah was a high school senior — wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For my family, if you’re going to do something you better be the best at it,” he said of playing lacrosse and making his way in the world. “Then if you’re not, you’re, for lack of better words, going to get a hard time [from them]. I think it’s something I was always raised on. If you’re going to pick something up then you better be the best at it.”
Major League Lacrosse thinks Davis-Allen is the best, and a lot of young, aspiring athletes would agree.
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