By JENNIFER MEIER
Alex Eash hadn’t been involved in sports since he was seven years old.
So it was a bit of a surprise when his dad Greg found him talking intently to the Lacrosse coach and players at a South Bend St. Joseph High School open house last year.
Although Alex didn’t end up attending St. Joseph, he didn’t let go of desire to try Lacrosse.
With one other interested friend, Connor Graber, and a very supportive dad, Alex recruited 18 interested Northridge High School and 20 Northridge Middle School students early in 2012.
“I played baseball, basketball and tennis in high school,”
Alex’s dad Greg said. “So I had to learn the fundamentals right along with them.”
That meant reading “Lacrosse for Dummies” and watching as many YouTube videos as he could find. He also had a great deal of help from two local coaches.
Director of Lacrosse for Notre Dame Jason Lamb, who runs several instructional camps, allowed Greg to help out at one in October.
“It was a huge learning experience,” Greg said. “Not only did I learn the basics, but I also got to learn how he coaches.”
And under the direction of St. Joseph High School Lacrosse Coach Mike Williams, the Middlebury players attended a clinic at the Elkhart Sport Center.
“That winter we created a lacrosse league at the center and played every Sunday,” Greg said. “It was all the same Middlebury players; we just chose different teams each time.”
Of the high school players, only three had ever played the game before they joined the Middlebury Raiders lacrosse team. So with very little practice under their belts the middle and high school teams forged into their first season of competitive play this spring.
Of the 40 lacrosse teams statewide, the Raiders played Bloomington, South Bend Catholic and public schools, Penn, Concord, Evansville and Fort Wayne.
“We played a split schedule. When we were up against the more accomplished schools, we played their junior varsity,” Greg said.
The season ended with five wins and 10 loses for the high school team.
“I wasn’t sure if we’d win any, so it exceeded my expectations. I think they did great,” Greg said. “There were only three games the whole season that we didn’t have a chance to win.”
The middle school record of one win and seven losses, didn’t at all reflect the play, said Greg.
“There wasn’t one game that we weren’t within a couple of goals,” Greg said. “They were very competitive.”
A successful first season along with the players’ enthusiasm caught the attention, not only of other students, but of parents as well.
“Nobody quit the team. We have 17 returning players and eight middle school players moving up. The kids say they know of up to 10 more high schoolers who would like to play,” Greg said.
While Middle School interest is also growing, Greg said he’s been getting e-mails from parents of elementary school students, both boys and girls, who want to play.
“It started out as a high school team and the middle school team just happened,” Greg said. “Now we’ve got third, fourth and fifth graders who are interested.”
In the recently formed Northern Indiana Lacrosse Association, all these students will be able to play with other teams from LaPorte, Penn and South Bend Catholic and public schools.
“Seventeen kids is a great roster,” Greg said. “Next year it looks like we will have 35 to 40 kids.”
Greg is offering a summer camp from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, June 24 to 27 at Middlebury Elementary School. Cost is $30 for players with their own lacrosse stick and $50 for those who don’t.
The additional cost buys players a stick. The camp is open to both boys and girls, third grade and up, and focuses on scooping ground balls, passing, catching, throwing and shooting. For more information e-mail Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is a great sport for a lot of kids. It really keeps football and soccer players in shape,” Greg said. “It’s a contact sport, for boys, and it’s about footwork as well as running up and down the field.”
Girl’s lacrosse, although it uses a stick and ball, is quite different.
“If you saw the girl’s play you would swear you were watching a different game,” Greg said. “The camp is open to both girls and boys because we focus on the basics. I’d like to put together a girls team, but I need a coach.”
Greg credits the sport’s popularity to its relative newness in the area.
“It’s something different, something new,” Greg said. “It’s fast-paced – I guess it’s kind of like hockey on grass. I really enjoy coaching this. I wish I could do it full time!”