It was the hat trick Malcolm Kerrigan-Richardson scored for his Centennial Centaurs senior boys field lacrosse team that told him he was ready for his next big challenge.
A month earlier the 14-year-old Grade 9 student had his world crash down around him when his dad, Kevin Kerrigan, died of a heart attack at his workplace in Ft. McMurray, Alta.
Though apart from Malcolm's mom for 10 years, and living in Edmonton, Kerrigan maintained a close relationship with his son.
When Malcolm's mom, Ash Richardson, broke the news the morning after a late-night visit from the RCMP, he was devastated.
Malcolm was in the middle of studying for his Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) that would determine whether he could head to Lawrenceville, N.J., to further his academic and lacrosse ambitions at the prestigious Lawrenceville School — the top-ranked high school lacrosse program in the United States.
For the better part of the next month, Malcolm said, he was lost.
“I didn’t really want to do anything, not even play,” he said.
Coquitlam’s tight-knit lacrosse community rallied round, sending the grieving family meals, checking in. Even his potential future coaches from Lawrenceville called.
Malcolm said their encouragement “helped a lot.”
But it was some guidance from his mom, who reminded him that lacrosse is known as the “Creator’s game” to its Indigenous founders, with the power to heal the ailing spirit.
The three goals Malcolm scored in his first game back with his lacrosse buddies showed him the power of those words.
“It gave me motivation to do stuff again,” he said. “I just knew I had to keep working.”
Malcolm first started playing lacrosse when he was four after his mom signed him up because the sport is, she said, a more exciting alternative to baseball.
His older sister, Kadence, also plays.
Malcolm said he took a shine to the game immediately. He liked its speed and competitive nature.
He played box in the summer, field in the winter and spring, honing his scoring touch as a midfield attacker. He worked his way up to the Adanacs U17 A-1 box team this year, and he’s also had some action at the Junior B level.
Seeing his potential to get even better, one of his coaches told him about some of the programs available at private prep schools south of the border that could lead to further opportunities at top NCAA schools.
Malcolm and his mom started doing research. He looked at a school in Virginia, Blue Ridge, where another star local player, Jack Charbonneau, attended before getting a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.
Then a friend told Malcolm about Lawrenceville that’s ascended to a top ranking in just three years under head coach Jonathan Posner.
But the cost of such a program can be daunting — $78,000 USD for tuition as well as room and board.
Malcolm crafted an introductory email, as well as some video files of him in action, and sent it to Posner.
The coach called Ash and talked to her for an hour. He also interviewed Malcolm. He liked Canadian players, he told them, because their boxla background makes them fierce, quick-thinking competitors in the field.
There’s a place for Malcolm at Lawrenceville, he said.
Better yet, thanks to a generous endowment from an alumnus, all but $3,000 of his annual expenses would be covered. The scholarship also includes regular trips home.
Kerrigan-Richardson said the prospect of striking out on his own at such a young age is a little daunting, but a recent trip to Baltimore where he was able to participate in a tournament with his new teammates has helped ease his nerves. He got more playing time than he expected, he was able to run picks with the best of the players on the field.
“I’m getting excited about it,” Malcolm said.
His mom said while it will be tough to send her boy away to the opposite end of the continent, she knows it will be just the balm he needs to put the heartache of the past few months behind him.
“In a way, it’s good timing,” she said. “It will be good for him to be around like-minded people.”