By Rob Kean
With it being April vacation week and the priority having fun, one might think kids would do everything in their power to avoid all things educational. Yet Friday found a dozen 6th-grade boys not just gathered behind Sawyer Middle School in Bolton, but working hard, even learning.
And having an absolute blast.
Which means it was a typical practice for the Nashoba Youth Lacrosse U13A boys team. “This is youth lacrosse,” said head coach David Elkins, while his players practiced face dodges. “It’s about having fun.”
Between pointers, assistant coach Paul d’Entrement concurred. “A youth coach of any sport should be judged on one criteria: if all the players come back the next year, you’ve succeeded.”
If that’s the gauge, then Nashoba Youth Lacrosse coaches are succeeding wildly at every age level, with kids not just coming back, but multiplying.
The program that fielded 9 teams in 2012 and 11 last year now fields 13: two U15 teams, three at the U13 level, four at U11, three at U9, and even, for the first time, a team at the kindergarten level. Just two years ago, there were 132 boys in the program, all told. This year, there are 184 wearing Nashoba jerseys in Patriot Youth Lacrosse League play.
The program was started in 2002 by George Paglia from Lancaster, said Terry Boots, who took over the program in 2004. “When George had the program there were 3 teams – all boys – two U15 and one U13. When I took over the program we added U11 and U9 including kindergarten (so we went from ages 11 – 14 to ages 4- 14), ” said Boots. A girls program was also developed and spun off into its own entity, he said.
When the program began, there were no lacrosse teams at the high school. Now, with both a boys and girls lacrosse team in full swing for the Chieftains, NYLL President Ian MacLean described their current program goal: “Our overall mission is to deliver Lacrosse players to the High School that can do all the basics well. Throw and catch on the run and know the basics of the game, maybe have some fun while learning it.”
At the U13A team’s Friday practice, it was clear why the sport known worldwide as the “Fastest Sport on Two Feet” is now among boys in these parts the Fastest Sport on 368 of them. While coaches Elkins and d’Entrement – former high school and college players themselves, fathers of current high school and college players – know what sort of discipline and intensity will be required of these kids to play lax at the highest levels, the practice they ran was free of pressure, and even convention.
The epitome was a drill aptly called “baseball,” in which lacrosse sticks served as throwing arms, fielders’ gloves, and bats. With coach Elkins “pitching,” the “batter” fielded whatever pitch came his way, then let the ball fly. If a player on the other team caught it in the air, the batter was out. If not, the batter scooped up a second ball, and cradling it, start tearing around the bases, while an outfielder chased down the first one and fired to the cutoff man, who in turn pegged it to another infielder. Over the creative course of this baseball game, every conceivable lacrosse skill was employed, and further honed.
“Our coaches make the game fun,” said Nicholas Romasco, who plays defense, after practice.
It was a sentiment shared by Thomas Keough, who also plays D when not playing goalie. “They have a way of making it fun for us to get better at lacrosse.”
Aidan Lee agreed, too. When then asked what about the sport of lacrosse he loves most, the attackman/middie thought for a moment. “The physicality,” he finally said.
As for attackman Matt Williams, he said he prefers lacrosse to other sports because of the running involved. “There’s more running in lacrosse than in something like…horseback riding,” he explained. “In that, the horse does all the running, and you just go along for the ride.”
The growth and mission of Nashoba Youth Lacrosse is perhaps best illustrated by the Membrino brothers, Evan and Joseph, who both play middie for this year’s U13A team. “Only my brother (Evan) played last year,” said Joseph on Friday. “He was being picked up from practice, and I came with. Coach (Elkins) saw me and said I should be playing, too. And I was like ‘umm…okay!’”
With a shrug and a grin, he then turned and joined his teammates, their gradual post-practice exodus from the field, and the receding soundtrack that accompanied it.
“Game on Sunday in Arlington,” Coach Elkins reminded them.
“Who are we playing?” asked one player.
“The game’s in Arlington,” said another. “Who do you think we’re playing?”
And so it went, among a dozen 6th-grade boys who play the fastest sport on two feet. A dozen boys walking slowly. But only for now.