Lacrosse Serves Up World Of Opportunity For Kilbourne Graduate
Juan Contreras, a Worthington Kilbourne and Otterbein graduate, will play for Mexico in the World Lacrosse Games in Israel. (Photo Credit Eric Albrecht, The Columbus Dispatch)
By Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch
Posted Jul 8, 2018 at 8:31 AM
Juan Contreras began playing lacrosse as a seventh-grader, mainly to stay in shape for football.
At Worthington Kilbourne High School, he was a backup midfielder. Contreras entered Otterbein when the school was just starting its lacrosse program and wasn’t sure if he even wanted to continue his career.
Now, at 27, Contreras will compete at the pinnacle of the sport. Next week, Contreras will play for Mexico in the World Lacrosse Games, the sport’s equivalent to soccer’s World Cup.
Tom Schreiber and Marcus Holman of the Ohio Machine in Major League Lacrosse will play for the United States team, and the Machine’s Mark Matthews is on the Canadian team. The tournament starts Thursday in Netanya, Israel.
“I’m super excited,” Contreras said.
He wanted to try out for the Mexican team for the world games four years ago but found out about the tryout too late. So he set his sights on this year. He successfully tried out for the team last fall in Mexico City.
“The fact it’s finally here is a little surreal,” Contreras said. “I can’t wait to represent my heritage and also Columbus lacrosse as well.”
Contreras has dual citizenship. He was born in Columbus to an American-born mother and a father who emigrated from Mexico.
“He grew up with nine brothers and sisters,” Contreras said of his father. “They didn’t have very much money and he knew coming to the United States was an opportunity.”
Contreras lived in Mexico as a first- and second-grader before returning to the U.S. He has regularly visited relatives near Mexico City since then.
When he came back to the United States, playing sports became a way for Contreras to gain acceptance.
“As a kid growing up, I was one of the only Hispanic kids in my class,” Contreras said. “When it came to lacrosse and sports, it was a platform to be equal with everybody and make some friends.”
Contreras was a backup on the Kilbourne team that won the 2009 state championship and produced a bevy of Division I college players.
“Playing with those guys is what helped me get to this level,” he said.
That is, once he decided to keep playing at all. He enrolled at Otterbein as a regular student.
“I got there and I realized I missed the game a lot,” Contreras said.
He played as a freshman on Otterbein’s first team, but he still wasn’t fully committed to the sport. A heart-to-heart with coach Colin Hartnett after the season was a turning point.
“In my mind, I wasn’t going to let him quit,” Hartnett said. “He made the decision that if he wanted to do it, he wanted to put all of himself into it.”
And so he did. He became a valuable two-way midfielder and was the first in what has become a valuable Kilbourne-to-Otterbein pipeline.
“Juan has always been one of my favorite guys I’ve ever coached,” Hartnett said. “I’m just incredibly proud of him, not as much for what he has done on the lacrosse field, but how he has grown into a man and become very successful after college.”
Contreras works in asset management for J.P. Morgan in Columbus. He also coaches for Resolute Lacrosse, a club program, and has helped out with the Kilbourne program.
Contreras is now proud to be helping promote the growth of the sport in Mexico. Its national team finished 23rd four years ago in the world games. He said the goal this year is a top-10 finish among the 46 teams.
But Contreras said his motivation supersedes success on the field.
“Lacrosse is a platform for me,” he said. “If I’m being honest, there are a lot of negative views about Mexico, especially over the last couple of years. This is my opportunity to have a voice for my Mexican heritage and other Mexican-Americans. It kind of got bigger than myself, and I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s pretty special.”