After his fourth and final season on the Providence College men’s lacrosse team, Bertan Unal moved halfway across the world and started working at a drug manufacturing company. He thought the four-month stay in the Republic of Turkey — where his family was living — would be a “good opportunity to get some international experience,” he said.
But when the Winston Churchill High School graduate (Class of 2007) connected with Patrick Dougherty, the founder of the Turkey Lacrosse Association (TLA), his summer abroad became part of a “ground zero” project, which three years later, helped the transcontinental Eurasian country field a team for the first time in the World Lacrosse Championship in Colorado.
With Unal serving as a team captain, Turkey went 4-4 and finished 22nd in the 38-team tournament held July 10-19.
“They had no idea how to use a stick or the positions or anything. Now they’re able to compete in this crazy tournament and able to compete at the highest level at this type of setting,” said Unal, 25, of Washington, D.C. “... It was really rewarding to see how much they improved, and it’s on them.”
Dougherty, who grew up playing lacrosse in upstate New York, launched TLA in 2009 to help develop the sport in Turkey. Unal said he reached out to the TLA founder during his senior year at Providence to discuss how he could help the association.
“And it kind of blossomed from there,” said Unal, whose father was born in Turkey.
Unal, fluent in Turkish, said that when he first started, most of the players lacked experience and basic lacrosse skills. The 2007 All-Gazette long-stick midfielder/defender said the situation was similar to when he joined the Churchill team in Potomac a decade ago.
“When I first got to Churchill, lacrosse wasn’t that big. There was so much disparity between the private and public schools,” Unal said. “… Now you’re seeing it exploding in Montgomery County ... we can see it blossoming into something.”
Unal was one of several Churchill students and alumni to participate in the international tournament, launched in
1967 and held every four years.
Churchill senior Daniel DiBono III played for Spain and finished second on his team in scoring despite being one of its youngest players. Other Churchill representatives include senior Louis Dubick (Israel), alumnus Brett Rolf (assistant coach, Costa Rica).
“For me it was unbelievable. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said DiBono, whose mother is from
Spain. “Just to be there, not even play, but also to play. Just because we were around so many nations that I had no idea had anything to do with lacrosse. It was really humbling, a lot of them were actually good.”
Despite living in the nation’s capital, Unal, a TLA board member, said he visits Turkey about once a year and remains in contact with the association. He said he is optimistic about the future of the sport in Turkey.
“The next steps would be to reach out to the Turkish American community and tell them our story and where we’ve come from and get them engaged with this program,” Unal said. “I think that having this medium where we can bring the Turk-Americans and Turkish born players together will have a positive impact.”