A lacrosse team grows in Brooklyn
Brooklyn Bridge Park is known for its incredible views, luscious lawns and state-of-the-art athletic facilities, but it may soon be recognized for a group of boys who are revolutionizing a traditionally suburban sport in Brooklyn.
A visitor from another planet, or even a different part of the country, might be baffled and possibly even scared by the violent game where players twirl sticks — some as long as 6 feet — with baskets on the end.
Throwing a ball as hard as a rock, audiences sit entranced as teams jab, poke and hit each other, patiently waiting for the smallest hole to penetrate the crease.
What could be mistaken for a tribal ritual is actually North America’s oldest game and the fastest sport on two feet: Lacrosse.
This pastime, steeped in tradition, was originally a Native American war game played between opposing tribes with as many as 1,000 players from rival villages participating.
Each game would last for days, with the goals situated as far as 6 miles apart, and it was not unusual for players to perish over the course of a single match.
Nowadays, while the game is less barbaric, it still preserves its competitive nature.
Lacrosse — a stereotypical tony sport reserved for the affluent suburbs of Long Island, N.J. and Maryland — is growing rapidly and experiencing an increase in popularity in Brooklyn and beyond thanks to the Brooklyn Lacrosse Club.
“What’s cool is you’re seeing more and more organizations starting up, whereas 10 years ago if I saw a kid with a lacrosse stick on the subway, I would stop him and ask, ‘Where do you play?’” said Brooklyn Lacrosse Club Director Joseph Nocella.
“In the last five years, through us and lots of other organizations too, I see lacrosse sticks more and more on the subway. There’s more and more of a culture that you’re starting to see seep into the city.”
Brooklyn Lacrosse Club, which draws kids from all backgrounds, is a quintessential reflection of the borough.
“What we tried to do was create an organization that looks like Brooklyn, that draws in people from all walks in life in an inclusive way,” said Nocella. “I always like to think that in any team picture we take, it’s exactly right, that’s us.”
Attracting players from Brooklyn Heights to Brownsville, Canarsie to Coney Island, the organization gives kids the ability to forge friendships that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to form without lacrosse.
“We have some private school kids from Brooklyn Heights and we have some public school kids from East New York and Brownsville,” said Nocella. “Those kids are all smashed together on these teams and they become friends and socially it’s incredible.”
Within Brooklyn Lacrosse Club, a particular group of boys known as the U11 Select Team is beating traditional powerhouses across the tri-state area and putting the sport on the map for the borough.
The organization, formed in 2012, has 12 teams for boys and girls ranging from pre-K through 12th grade. The squads include U8, U10, U12, U14 and U19 for both sexes and a co-ed U6 peewee team and the U11 Select Team.
“We have kids out there that are brand new to the sport,” said head coach of the U11 Select Team Seth Basham. “This is something that they’ve never seen before and they’re like, ‘What is that? I want to play that.’
“We get kids coming from all different directions; some from the housing projects, for example, where we practice on Wednesdays.”
“I’ve seen absolutely amazing growth for my son,” added Jordana Kenny, a parent who has three kids in the program. “Take the sport away for a second; the friendships he has built with children that he would not have met otherwise from different parts of the city has been amazing.”
The U11 Select Team can be found practicing as many as four times a week at Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park or on the handball courts of the borough’s public housing complexes playing “wall ball.”
As locals peer on in awe at the alien-like game, some venture over to their practice to inquire, touch and feel the equipment.
Brooklyn Lacrosse Club’s mission statement, according to its website, is “To grow the sport of lacrosse in Brooklyn, emphasizing fundamentals, teamwork, respect and Brooklyn … Through the sport of lacrosse, we strive to open up endless opportunities for the youth of Brooklyn.”
“We felt that it was a sport that didn’t have a lot of traction in cities and in urban areas and we felt that the reasons were the cost of the sport, the logistics of the sport and the perception of the sport,” said Nocella. “So we designed an organization that dealt with removing those barriers.”
He added, “There’s never a kid that is turned away because [he or she] can’t pay.”
With the introduction of lacrosse in Brooklyn, kids now have an alternative to baseball that requires more running and athleticism.
“It’s the fastest sport on two feet,” said Seth. “People love speed, action and the opportunity to get out on the field. Field sports in general in Brooklyn have come a long way. Lacrosse brings elements together that are quick and attractive to kids who want speed and action on the field.”
“There’s an athleticism required in lacrosse that’s not required in baseball that has particular appeal to the times in which we live,” added Andrew Cotto, whose son Julian plays on the select team. “I see the sport blossoming. I can see Brooklyn becoming a place known for lacrosse like Maryland is known for lacrosse.”
He added, “It works so well because of the exertion and mental focus that is required of it. It seems to be a nice fit for city kids, contemporary city kids, new-school Brooklyn kids.”
For the kids themselves, they each love the sport for different reasons.
“I’ve been holding a lacrosse stick since I could walk,” said Lucas Basham, 11. “I’m a small kid and I like running around, especially with much bigger kids. Small kids can do just as much as the bigger kids.”
“I like the physical part about the sport: Checking,” added Julian Cotto, 10.
The majority of the coaches at Brooklyn Lacrosse Club are all volunteers, donating their time for the growth of the game.
The U11 Select Team has seasons in both the spring and fall. It competes at the highest level, entering tournaments across the region and defeating traditional powerhouses like Montclair in N.J.
“They’re beating teams that used to beat them handedly,” said Andrew Cotto. “Now the kids from Brooklyn are coming out to Westchester and no one’s laughing anymore.”
A highlight from the team’s season thus far was when the players and parents travelled to Foxborough, Massachusetts on Memorial Day weekend to watch the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Final Four at Gillette Stadium.
Nocella and his counterparts at other New York City-based lacrosse organizations, like the Brooklyn Crescents, have ambitious goals for the sport, hoping to create a citywide lacrosse league as early as next spring.
And as the sport continues to grow in Brooklyn and beyond, the borough could soon become a hotspot for recruitment, drawing scouts from the game’s top colleges.
In the meantime, people may still stop in their tracks when they see lacrosse being played, but as more kids learn about the sport and as additional opportunities to play become available, do not be surprised to see more lacrosse sticks than baseball gloves on the subway.
“It’s such a unique sport and I love helping grow the passion for it,” said Lucas. “Every town should have a lacrosse club if the sport is going to grow. It has a big future around here.”
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