Heart of HAYLA pumps new blood to prep teams

May 18, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

North Hagerstown boys lacrosse coach Dave Tallant stood looking across the Mike Callas Stadium field like he was staring into a crystal ball.

"This is where it all gets started," he said.

In front of him was the future of his program. The Hagerstown Saints U-11 Black of the Hagerstown Area Youth Lacrosse Association were locked in a battle with St. John's during Hagerstown Youth Lacrosse Day at North Hagerstown. The Saints lost, but there was more to the game than the score.

"I love to run and shoot (the ball)," said Ryan Moore, a U-13 player from Smithsburg. "Playing midfielder allows me to run up and down the field and when I play attack, I get to shoot. I like playing on the grass and I would like to play in college."

HAYLA, now in its fourth year, serves a dual purpose. Not only is it a youth sport that gives players a chance to try another variation of athletics, it is also the much-needed life bloodline to Washington County's fledgling high school programs.


"This area didn't have a feeder program," said Jim Moore, assistant principal at North and a HAYLA board member. "We want kids to have access to the sport. This is a good thing becuase we aren't stealing players from baseball. This is another option for kids and it gives them another outlet."

That outlet also helps on the high school level. Washington County is behind in development, even though lacrosse is Maryland's state team sport. Players from Baltimore, Montgomery and Frederick counties are more skilled than local players at this time.

The influx of population moving in from the East combined with the sport becoming more widely televised has created an interest. For now, only North and South Hagerstown, Smithsburg and Saint James have boys and girls lacrosse teams.

"You take North High's team, 95 percent of the players started playing lacrosse in high school," said Tim Almany, a U-11 assistant coach and board member. "Three or four years from now, North Hagerstown will have a more competitive team. It will take four or five years to realize.

"When the U-9 kids get to the high school level, they will have nine years of experience. Right now, the high school players only have two."

HAYLA has 210 players across 12 teams -- six boys team from U-9 to U-13, and six girls teams ranging from U-9 to U-15. Girls lacrosse actually started in the county three years before the boys program joined the league's organization.

The teams compete with teams in the Western Maryland Youth Lacrosse League based in Frederick, Md.

The league draws players from 42 schools, not only from Washington County but from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

HAYLA is at the grassroots of the process. It started when a group got together and petitioned U.S. Lacrosse for an equipment grant to equipt 12 players. It has grown -- and improved -- from there.

"It was a frustrating at first," said Mike Ewing, league president and U-11 coach. "The first year it was, 'This is a stick and this is how you use it.' It was the sport with the sticks with the nets on the end. Now the kids know a little bit more and they are understanding the game. We want to give every kid a chance. We don't turn anyone away."

The beauty of lacrosse for the new players is its diversity. The self-proclaimed "fastest game on two feet" employs concepts and styles that are similar to football, basketball, hockey and soccer.

"It is a sport that offers a lot of different things for players with different interests," Ewing said. "It is fast-paced. It is physical. It has structure. It has teamwork and camaraderie."

The young players are eager to learn the new craft for diverse reasons all their own.

"I play football, but my coach asked me if I wanted to come out and play (lacrosse)," said Lemonte Green, a U-11 player who attends Salem Elementary. "I like the hitting. When I first started playing, I asked, 'How do you do that?' Now, I'm surprised on how I picked it up. There are a lot of people who have helped me get better."

For others, there are deeper lessons.

"I like the game because the ball is always moving," said Alex Riser, a U-11 midfielder from Paramount Elementary. "(Lacrosse) is hard to understand, but I've learned from playing. I learned about teamwork, which is hard to get used to, but I know when I get a job I will know how to work together as a team."

For all the intentions of HAYLA to build better lacrosse players for years to come, it still comes down to one thing.

"It's fast and doesn't stop moving," said Carson Riser, a U-11 player from Paramount Elementary. "I learn something different every time I play. I want to keep playing because it's fun."

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