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Youth lacrosse on the rise in Hagerstown

May 02, 2010|By WILL ROBINSON/Staff Correspondent

HAGERSTOWN -- Mike Ewing wouldn't be considered an evangelist, but the president of the Hagerstown Area YMCA Lacrosse Association does enjoy helping people to see the light.

"I had a baseball convert recently. His kid was a great ballplayer and he let him try (lacrosse) once. Just like that, he signed up for coaching classes with the U.S. Lacrosse Association," Ewing said. "His team maybe lost two games all year. That's the passion that we're trying to get."

The league's boys got the chance to showcase their talents Saturday at the 2010 HAYLA Lax Day at Mike Callas Stadium, where many parents and fans turned out to support their teams. The girls take their turn on the field today.

In its fifth year, the league continues to grow at an impressive clip, increasing the number of players from 210 to 250 since last season.

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"We've officially become the biggest youth lacrosse program in Western Maryland this year," said U-13 head coach and board member Tim Almany.

HAYLA is continuing to introduce kids to the game of lacrosse early, starting with its U-9 programs, but a recent influx of seventh- and eighth-graders has made up the majority of the growth.

"Where we sit now, every elementary and middle school in Washington County is represented in the HAYLA," Almany said.

The focus for the coaches is to start the kids while they're young and teach them the fundamentals before getting them into more complex concepts -- like zone defense -- as they work their way up to the more advanced age groups.

"I've been playing since second grade," said Kathryn Dillard, the daughter of girls league president Cheryl Dillard. "It takes a while to learn the zone defense, but once you do it's a whole lot better."

The number of former players who have gone on to play in high school and college is at 45, but figures to grow very quickly. Almany stresses the importance of the alumni for the league.

"It's great for the other kids to see. It lets them look up to (the alumni) and set goals," Almany said. "It becomes a great endorsement for our league knowing kids have taken what they've learned here to D-I through D-III."

HAYLA doesn't have a large budget, so most of its support comes by word of mouth. The league is funded by registrations, sponsorships and fundraisers, such as the upcoming HAYLA Day at The Greene Turtle on May 11.

"It helps that we have that support. Those people are the lifeblood of our league," Cheryl Dillard said. "I grew up in Annapolis, to see this league flourish, it's great."

The kids that are playing in HAYLA have taken to the game like fish to water, and they marvel at the progress that they've made.

"I've been playing for four years, and I've definitely gotten better," said Tim Almany's son, Tucker. "I've learned the simple things like stick handling, plus I have a stronger shot to score goals better. My shot's been clocked around 56 mph."

"I've learned to shoot low and bounce it, and to shoot at the goalie's opposite side," said Ewing's son, Harrison. "I really like the game and I want to play all through high school."

Ewing's vision for HAYLA is not only to increase the popularity of lacrosse in Western Maryland, but also to instill important life lessons in his players.

"We focus on personal goals that'll carry forward in the players' lives, then we have team goals," Ewing said. "Yeah, winning is great, but we want the kids to learn something about life and to be disciplined while they set their goals. We want to instill a level of maturity in our players, and the game of lacrosse is our medium."

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