USL Southeast Wrap-Up from Raleigh
Back in Baltimore today following a flight home last night. Let's put a wrap on the weekend's US Lacrosse Southeast Regional Championships and Lax Fests in Raleigh, N.C.
The event had its share of existing club teams whose players play together for much of the year and regional- or community-based teams, which formed after a tryout process during the spring. What was evident was the pride felt by members of the latter, especially in representing their city or state alongside players they had played against during the spring season.
That wasn't lost on coaches, either. North Carolina U15 girls' coach Jen Flaherty, a 2009 graduate of UNC and a Tar Heel attacker, grew up playing lacrosse in the state.
"I was one of the first kids on our travel teams," she said. "It's amazing how lacrosse has picked up here. We still have a long way to go, but we have little kids out here and we haven't had that before."
Flaherty's championship squad drew players mainly from the communities of Charlotte, Raleigh and Cary.
Also making the trip north from Charlotte were the Condors, a U11 boys' program established by US Lacrosse members and donors through the US Lacrosse First Stick Program. It's one of several US Lacrosse outreach initiatives aimed at breaking down barriers to participation. The First Stick Program awarded eight grants to teams in non-traditional lacrosse areas this year. Each grant begins a three-year relationship and includes equipment, coach and official education and life-skills training.
"For us, the grant meant no excuses," Charlotte head coach Jeremy Ardrey said. "Everybody knows with lacrosse the equipment and the travel are expensive, and sometimes can be the difference between a kid being a participant and being a spectator. So for our parents, the grant has removed the parents' excuse of not being able to afford to have their kid be a part of the game."
Not surprisingly, once the team got up and running, Ardrey, himself a football convert, saw that lacrosse is its own best recruiter.
"It's the culture of lacrosse that's drawing a lot of kids," he said. "The coaches are great with the kids. They take the time to break down the skills and so forth. And the people we meet, that helps, because that's how they approach the game as well."
Playing rules for youth lacrosse also was a topic of discussion at various instances. US Lacrosse is in the midst of researching and drafting national, age-appropriate rules for youth boys' lacrosse and youth girls' lacrosse. Given some of the questions I heard, such a development would remove some confusion from the game. You're welcome to provide some input by firing off an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with "Youth Rules" in the subject line.
Maybe this will be the last year folks get confused by rules at a tournament.