Long Island has long been considered a lacrosse hotbed, churning out successful collegiate players from high school programs throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. I graduated from Lynbrook High School in 2010 and saw great players pass through the halls, cradling lacrosse sticks on their way to class. I remember wearing my friends’ home or away jerseys at big games. I enjoyed Lynbrook Lacrosse Day with the rest of my community.
But I never played the game. I play basketball, and have never picked up a lacrosse stick. After I graduated, I headed to a university in the Midwest — where lacrosse isn’t as popular — and didn’t think about the sport at all. Until last week.
On July 10, I headed to Edward J. Speno Memorial Park in East Meadow to check out the Town of Hempstead Lacrosse Academy, a summer program the town operates in its many parks. I was greeted by the camp director, Tim Murray, the brother of Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who gave me a tour of the clinic, where hundreds of kids were running around the fields in lacrosse gear. Murray pointed out each age group and gender, separated by field, detailing the different drills the kids were working on.
The four-day-long camp welcomes boys and girls ages 5 to 15. They play for two to three hours a day depending on their age, for a fee of $70 ($60 for 5- and 6-year-olds). “We preach fun and fundamentals,” Murray told me.
It definitely looked to me like the kids were having fun. On some fields they scrimmaged, while spectators cheered. On others they practiced stick skills and watched as coaches demonstrated proper technique. The young athletes listened intently to the instructors, who I quickly learned were the furthest thing from amateurs.
The camp is coached by high school and collegiate players and coaches. Some of the coaches were once campers themselves, and were coming full circle to teach what they’ve learned. As I watched the coaches interact with the children and heard their parents cheering on the sidelines, I realized that lacrosse is a community unto itself. The patterned shorts, the neon crew socks and cleats, and the pinnies are part of its culture.
Suddenly, I was jealous. I wanted to be a part of it.
So when Murray invited me to come back the next day and join the fun, I agreed instantly, despite the fact that I didn’t know how to throw or catch a lacrosse ball. He assured me I’d receive proper instruction, and when I voiced concern for my well-being, he told me that the camp had an athletic trainer on staff, a great safety measure for the kids.
When I arrived at Speno Park the next day, wearing borrowed cleats, Murray directed me to the girls’ field, where I met Jaclyn Quinn, a graduate of Wantagh High School and Quinnipiac University. She and a fellow Quinnipiac alum, Chelsea Guerrera, showed me how to hold a lacrosse stick and to throw and catch. Through many failed attempts, I continued to insist that I was a good athlete. They were kind and patient, just like they were with their campers, and I got the hang of it … eventually.
Quinn introduced me to Jimmy Davis, a former Princeton Tiger, and we talked more about the game. I was impressed by the coaches’ knowledge, and how passionate they were about the sport. And judging by the kids cheering and shouting and running around, clad in lacrosse gear, that passion was clearly infectious. “It’s fun watching them grow,” Quinn said. “We have kids who come back year after year, and they learn more and more.”
The 9-year-old program was inaugurated a year after Kate Murray took office. She is deeply involved with the academy, and attends the camp one day per year. She is also no stranger to the game. “I’m a big fan,” she told me. “I grew up around lacrosse. It’s a big part of my family.”
I worked up the courage to ask Murray to have a catch with me, and I watched as she expertly scooped a ball up from the grass on her first try.
It was then that I realized that becoming a part of the lacrosse community wasn’t just about learning how to throw and catch; it was about putting yourself out there and asking questions, about wanting to learn more. That’s what the academy offers the campers: the opportunity to be surrounded by knowledgeable, passionate, skillful people and to become a part of a culture and a community.
So when I head back to school this fall in St. Louis, maybe I’ll try to share some of what I learned during my two days at the clinic. It was a brief experience, but one during which I came to understand the culture of a unique sport, thanks to the many people who welcomed me into their community with open arms.