PITTSBORO — Nationally, lacrosse hasn’t yet broken into the mainstream, with it being most popular in the northeastern U.S. with small pockets of interest in other regions across the country.
But as illustrated by Seaforth’s latest venture into youth sports camps, Pittsboro might just be one of those pockets.
Seaforth hosted its first-ever co-ed youth lacrosse camp last week, from June 20-23, as part of a jam-packed week of camps alongside those for baseball, cheerleading, soccer, softball and volleyball. The camp garnered interest from students across the area, with 60 athletes, ranging from ages 7 to 17, signing up to attend.
“It was pretty special,” Joe Hubbard, the school’s head men’s lacrosse coach and camp’s main counselor, told the News + Record. “We’re pumped to continue to build the program at a high school level. … There are some very special things happening in this community right now.”
Seaforth drawing 60 attendees for the camp shows the level of interest the community has in the sport, though Hubbard refused to take all of the credit.
“I’ve got to say, part of the credit for that success, and for the numbers, goes to the youth organization, the Chatham Cardinals,” Hubbard said, “because a lot of kids play in the rec league.”
The Chatham Cardinals, otherwise known as North Chatham Youth Lacrosse (NCYL), is a Chapel Hill-based recreational men’s lacrosse league that’s “dedicated to promoting the game of lacrosse in Chatham County and surrounding areas,” according to its website. It offers four teams, one for each of the 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U divisions.
Hubbard said that NCYL has “done a really good job” at getting more students involved in lacrosse, a mission he hoped to further during Seaforth’s four-day camp.
Typically, Hubbard gets rising seniors to help out by volunteering as camp counselors — a staple of the youth camps he hosted during his tenure at East Chapel Hill High School before being hired by Seaforth — but with Seaforth’s population being as young as it is, with the rising juniors being the school’s oldest age group, along with his own players participating in the camp, he decided to get creative.
He found a few recent high school graduates to help out with volunteering, as well as former Lenoir-Rhyne defenseman and current Chatham Cardinals 14U head coach Arno Olivier, who assisted in coaching the high school-aged campers.
As is typical for summer athletic camps, Hubbard and the other counselors split the players into groups determined by age and skill level, allowing each group to work on different elements of the game at different times.
They’d often start with stations, where campers would get the basics on passing, shooting, defensive positioning, among other skills, and then they’d get to put what they’d learned to the test in scrimmage games.
Though aside from the general fundamentals, the camp also had specialized sections for goalies — who would break off on their own to focus on improving their goal-keeping skills with specific goalie coaches — along with what Hubbard called a “face-off clinic,” where campers would essentially learn strategies for winning face-offs, one of the most important facets of the game.
While the camp had its tough moments of skill work, Hubbard always ensured to mix in a little fun along the way to keep campers smiling, especially those in the younger age group.
“It’s all about the energy and the passion and the coaches putting that into the younger group, keeping them moving,” Hubbard said. “Doing things in short bursts, keeping them playing and incorporating a fun element, so with each skill that’s being taught, making a game out of it.
“For ground balls,” he explained, “we played games like Hungry Hungry Hippo, where it’s a challenge and there’s some competitive stuff to it. The guys would put all of the balls in the middle and split them up into teams and they’d have to run in and bring balls back. They loved it.”
During his camps at East Chapel Hill, Hubbard encountered plenty of campers that had little to no experience with lacrosse, many of which had never picked up a stick before. One of the most rewarding things, he recalled, is when those same campers would ask him what stick they should buy once camp was over.
His primary goal throughout all of his youth camps, including Seaforth’s, has been to get campers to fall in love with the sport, thus growing the game in the process.
“At the end of the camp, the goal is to have them energized, feeling excited and encouraged to be the best lacrosse player they can be,” Hubbard said. “Most importantly, in my opinion, is that they have a good time, that they’re smiling and laughing at the end of camp. To me, that love and passion for the sport goes a long way, even if it’s just for two hours every day for four days.
“The best possible outcome,” he continued, “is that they keep the ball in their stick and keep the stick in their hands for the rest of the summer. … That’s the most important piece of the puzzle.”
With Seaforth hosting 9th through 11th graders next school year, the expectation is that the lacrosse program will grow with the school’s population, which puts forth the possibility of more than just a varsity men’s program.
In fact, according to Hubbard, Seaforth is planning to offer women’s lacrosse for the first time next school year as the sport continues to grow among mid-sized NCHSAA programs, though it’s still up in the air whether it’ll be a J.V. or varsity program in its inaugural season.
“There is 100% (an expectation to have a women’s program),” Hubbard said. “There seems to be enough folks expressing interest out of the new 9th graders that are coming in, so we’re currently working to get that on day one, starting to have girls come out to workouts and things like that. All signs are pointing to us 100% having a team.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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