More than 300 players, ages 5 to 14, enjoyed a spring full of lacrosse as a part of Brookline Youth Lacrosse. The program's ninth year, which ended in mid-June, was a perfect example of how quickly the sport of lacrosse is growing across the country.
"This year, we cracked the 300 player mark, something that seems amazing to me seeing that we started nine years ago with a group of only 30," said Scott Hillman, Brookline Youth Lacrosse's co-director and coach of this spring's Girls 7-8 year old team. "We are growing at least ten percent every year."
Lacrosse's popularity has been helped by the existence of two professional teams in the area (the NLL Boston Blazers and MLL Boston Cannons), but Brookline Youth Lacrosse is also seeing a boom because of their program's philosophy.
"Unlike many youth sports these days, we only play one season," Hillman said. "We only play in the spring, with a clinic or two in the fall to expose kids to the sport and to keep lacrosse skills fresh. We want to encourage exposure to multiple sports and activities, and promote kids not specializing too soon."
Hillman points to overuse injuries in youth athletes and boredom as two reasons why specializing is something to be avoided. "Brookline is such a diverse area, people have diverse interests, and we want to encourage that. Our players do chorus, band, dance, academic activities, and then play for us in the spring.
"If a player has to miss a practice or a game because of another legitimate activity, we don't penalize them by docking their playing time the next game or getting on them at practice."
Tryouts are not a part of the program, allowing all teams to be balanced evenly talent wise. To boost participants' continued interest, the one consideration made when forming teams is making sure friends get to play together.
"We ask the players to name three friends they would like to play on a team with, and then make sure they are on the same team as at least one of those friends," Hillman said.
The program's system may lack emphasis on competition (scores and league standings are not kept), but there is no doubt it is turning out competitive lacrosse players. "We're just seeing now the results of our first few years, with those players now playing lacrosse at the high school level," Hillman said.
Hillman pointed to Megan Keaveney, a former program participant who made the Bay State Super Junior Challenge team and scored a late goal in their 19-18 tournament win against the Connecticut all-stars. The Brookline High varsity boys team, who recently finished their first playoff season in 26 years, was stacked with former Brookline Youth Lacrosse players.
While it is still early to be looking towards the program's tenth season, Hillman and his young lacrosse players were motivated by the Eastern Massachusetts' Youth Lacrosse Jamboree, which they participated in at the conclusion of their season in mid-June. Players spent an entire day playing three or four abbreviated games against teams they normally don't face during the season. As one of the largest youth lacrosse events in the nation, players leave the Jamboree inspired, excited and undoubtedly tired.
"It's thousands of kids, tons of games, booths, food, appearances — it's quite the spectacle," Hillman laughed. "But it's great. It's a celebration of the sport, and that's what we're all about."
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