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CP Academy students design lacrosse stick for use with wheelchair

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Posted on: June 7, 2024

By SHARON O’MALLEY

A wheelchair-bound 9-year-old who’s into sports will be able to play lacrosse with a custom-made stick that allows her to launch a ball by pulling on a string.

Stella Stakolosa, who has cerebral palsy, also swims and has participated in cheerleading and horseback riding. She accepted the lacrosse stick on May 28 from a group of high school juniors and seniors from College Park Academy who designed the accessibility device, adorned with her name, for the Anne Arundel County resident.

“It’s awesome,” Megan Stakolosa, Stella’s mother, said after the girl used the stick to shoot a goal into a net during a demonstration as part of the presentation. “She wants to be able to do things by herself.”

The 19 high school students who designed the hot pink adaptive device are part of a program called Engineering for Us All (e4usa), which was founded by University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines, an engineer, along with the American Society for Engineering Education.

Stella Stakolosa takes a shot with the adaptive lacrosse stick custom-designed for her by College Park Academy students.

“I love projects like these, where students can use their creativity to come up with an engineered solution that truly impacts the life of a real person in a positive way,” Pines said during the presentation at College Park Academy.

The e4usa program started in 2018 with a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation and is active at approximately 90 schools in 25 states. Students learn engineering principles and take on projects that benefit the community.

Through the program, UMD trains high school teachers who don’t have an engineering background so they can teach the engineering class.

“It makes you feel proud; happy that I am guiding the students to help improve somebody’s life,” teacher Brendan McCarthy said.

Pines said the class attracts a diverse group of students.

“We need to value diversity of expertise, backgrounds, experiences, and we need to focus our effort and resources into making our community a more welcoming and inclusive community,” Pines said at the event. “If we do all of that, then we know that a new type of lacrosse stick isn’t just a new type of lacrosse stick. It represents what’s possible for Stella, for us and for everyone else.”

Engineering students from the Riverdale Park-based charter school designed a special bike last year for a 22-year-old with Down syndrome, complete with a remote-controlled brake that his mother can operate.

Engineering student Elizabeth Ayeni said working on the lacrosse stick taught her that “engineering can be anything. Solving problems is really fun, and you can apply that anywhere in life.”

The bendable stick was mounted to Stella’s wheelchair and will make it easier for her to play in a lacrosse league through Parkville Adaptive Lacrosse, which was founded in 2001 for disabled players.

Although coaches taught her how to play the game, Stella, who has had two open-heart surgeries and a stroke, found it difficult to hold the stick, which sometimes caught in the spokes of her wheelchair’s wheels. Once she was connected with the high school students, she met with them via Zoom to describe what she wanted. One accessory: a rearview mirror for her chair that allows her to see players approaching from behind.

“She came to us with a problem, and we were able to find a solution,” said Ayeni, one of the seniors who described the team’s work on the lacrosse stick. “It means a lot to make someone’s life a little easier or a little nicer.”

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