BY SCARLETT SALEM — Lacrosse may be the state sport of Maryland, but in Prince George’s County, high schools are better known for producing athletes who excel at basketball, football, and track and field.
The Prince George’s Pride Lacrosse Club is working to change that, teaming up this fall with the county’s Parks and Recreation Department to offer a series of free lacrosse clinics to area youth.
The clinics provide an avenue for kids to try a sport that otherwise might not be easily accessible. Former college players and area coaches teach lacrosse basics, such as stick handling and passing, on public fields.
“They supply the expertise and we supply the space,” said Byron Thompson, the department’s sports coordinator. “The most important thing for us is to provide our kids with exposure to lacrosse. It’s all around outside the county but doesn’t have a strong hold [here].”
The series, which runs through November 3, came to Hyattsville on a warm, sunny September afternoon. The promise of free instruction drew 52 children ages 7 to 15 to Heurich Turf Field. Many brought their own equipment, but Thompson made sure to have sticks on hand for those who didn’t.
“The clinics have been outstanding,” said Jonathan Smith, a coach for the College Park-based club. “We have some solid parents and coaches.”
Lacrosse teams aren’t co-ed, so boys and girls trained on separate sides of the field. Leading the boys’ side was Hyattsville resident Sean Calabrese, who played lacrosse at the University of Delaware and teaches P.E. at DeMatha Catholic High School. He has also coached lacrosse there, and recruited some current players to help with instruction.
“We were expecting a little bit more [of a turnout],” said Calabrese, “but the amount of kids who are new to [lacrosse] is great.” Of the 25 boys, he said, six had never played.
Many of the girls were new, too. Montgomery County resident Paulette Campbell, observing her 13-year old daughter Ava from the sidelines, said it was her “first time picking up a stick, and I think it’s going good.”
One thing that attracted Campbell was the price. “In Montgomery County, there are several avenues [for exposure], but those are $300 training programs. I thought this would be an easy way to get exposure but not sign up for a team.”
Running the girls’ side were two representatives from the Prince George’s Women’s Lacrosse Association, director Ashley Russell and program-planning manager Tara Restly. They conducted drills that incorporated lacrosse basics such as shooting.
“Hopefully, [the girls] will spread the word for us,” said Russell, who, like Restly, coaches at a local private high school. Currently, Bowie and Eleanor Roosevelt are the only public high schools in Prince George’s with varsity lacrosse; four others offer it as a club sport.
Before seeing lacrosse sanctioned by more high schools as a varsity sport, both PG Pride and PGWLA would like to see more participation so that more local teams can be fielded and eventually local leagues. Though PG Pride’s home field is Duvall, in College Park, the teams belong to leagues in neighboring counties.
“[Duvall] is a mile from a powerhouse lacrosse team, [University of Maryland], and there’s no viable youth program around here,” said club registrar Alex Heitkemper. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The remaining three lacrosse clinics are October 13 in Bowie, October 21 in District Heights, and November 3 in Fort Washington. Visit the PG Pride website for information on upcoming clinics or the club.