Maintaining success in high school sports is not an easy task. The constant turnover of rosters leads to many ups and downs over time. That’s where youth programs come into play. Generating early interest in sports builds a pipeline of talent to the varsity level that can be maintained for years to come. That’s exactly the goal of the Ithaca Lacrosse Club.
The club has a heavy focus on newcomers to the sport of lacrosse from kindergarten all the way through high school. Patrick Hovey, the second-year head coach of the Ithaca boys varsity lacrosse team, is one of the key leaders of the club and acknowledged the role he has in growing the presence of lacrosse in the area.
“As the varsity coach, it’s my job to make sure we are building the program,” Hovey said. “A big part of the job is to make sure all our youth programs are in line. We’re setting kids up to not only enjoy the game of lacrosse but begin playing the game of lacrosse.”
One of the opposing forces that Hovey has to overcome to achieve that is the cost of the sport. Similar to hockey, there is a large amount of equipment required to play lacrosse, and that can run up the bill of a child attempting to play for the first time very quickly.
Hovey encountered that issue during his own journey with the sport and wants to ensure that lacrosse is not pay-to-play in the Ithaca area.
“I love the game,” Hovey said. “I was the first person in my family to play and I immediately fell in love with it, and so did my family. We recognized pretty early that one of the biggest speed bumps or hindrances to start the game of lacrosse is the financial barrier. Since a few years ago when I started coaching with Frank Welch, we’ve focused heavily on reducing financial barriers to joining and playing the game of lacrosse.”
Partnerships with US Lacrosse and Swax Lax, a company that produces lacrosse balls, have helped Hovey do just that. In addition to “very generous monetary contributions,” US Lacrosse will run the Sankofa Clinic on March 24 at Esty St. Field in Ithaca. Every player who registers for that clinic will receive a free stick, shirt and membership to US Lacrosse.
After the club’s first clinic of the season took place on Feb. 11, there will be two more on Feb. 25 and March 10 at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca prior to US Lacrosse’s Sankofa Clinic. That partnership with US Lacrosse is doing a big part in boosting the club’s reputation.
“Anytime you can tie in a larger organization, a well-respected organization, it not only gives you confidence that you’re doing the right thing, but it’s also another layer of the validity for the community that this is the real deal,” Hovey said.
As for the participation in these clinics, Hovey has high hopes but will be happy to see any number of kids start a bond with the game.
“We’re hoping we can get about 30 kids [at the clinic] and build from that,” Hovey said. “Our upper limit that we can accommodate is about 100. I would love to see 100 kids at the Sankofa Clinic, but I think it’ll be a success if there are five kids who are out there playing the game and have the experience and the opportunity to play the game. One kid who picks up the stick is a positive for me. Obviously, the more the better.”
With plenty of sports to choose from for children, Hovey holds lacrosse at the top of the list due to its combination of other sports.
“It’s the best game ever,” Hovey said. “To me, lacrosse combines every aspect of so many great games. You can talk about the field size and the movement and the team aspect of soccer. There’s the physicality of football, the ball movement and possessions of basketball. You add all of that, and lacrosse takes it to the next level.”
If a child in the Ithaca area does want to steer toward lacrosse, Hovey and the Ithaca Lacrosse Club will be there to make the process of picking up the game as smooth as possible.
“One thing we try to do is just put equipment in kids’ hands,” Hovey said. “If a kid shows up on day one, he’s getting new or gently used equipment that he can go out there with and say, ‘I’m a part of this now.’”
Looking at the rest of the year, Hovey’s goals are simple: grow the game of lacrosse.
“The main thing for us is to get as many kids playing lacrosse as possible,” Hovey said. “I look at success as a growing program, a program where kids feel welcome and they’re learning the game. We’re teaching the game and putting kids with coaches who can teach the game and how to safely play the game and the principles we have at Ithaca.”
Again, the clinic dates for any child interested in joining the “unselfish, team lacrosse” culture in Ithaca are Feb. 25 and March 10 and 24. Hovey invites any businesses interested in partnering with the Ithaca Lacrosse Club or anyone interested in playing the game to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or to visit ithacalacrosseclub.org.
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