Once You Get the Hang of It
The following is an edited version of a feature story that US Lacrosse published in its May 2012 edition of Lacrosse Magazine. Visit the membership page to join US Lacrosse and start your subscription to Lacrosse Magazine.
Cheryl Perry watched her physical education students charge one-by-one from one corner of the gym to the other. Their first goal was simple — don’t let the ball drop from their lacrosse sticks.
||Cheryl Perry introduced soft lacrosse to her physical education classes in Little Rock, Ark. through a grant provided by US Lacrosse.
Most of the 17 eighth-graders accomplished it in a late March morning class at Christ Lutheran School in Little Rock, Ark.
But their second goal entailed completing a pass to a waiting classmate, who was then supposed to run down the sideline. Here, it got messy. Passes flew errant, catches were bungled and balls bounced out of the hard plastic pockets of the gender-neutral sticks as often as they stayed in. Through the ragged play, Perry encouraged her students and repeated, "Cradle it, cradle it!"
Cradling comes easily enough for the 23-year-old Perry, who has honed the fundamental skill since childhood in her hometown of Portland, Ore. Not so for her seventh- and eighth-grade students, most of which never touched a lacrosse stick before Christ Lutheran received a US Lacrosse Physical Education Grant in fall 2011.
Until recently elementary and secondary school students in central Arkansas had scant opportunity to play the sport. With the help of Perry and 41 other local physical education teachers, US Lacrosse hopes to change that.
Representatives of 39 schools in the Little Rock area were part of a pilot program in which attendees earn class credit to learn lacrosse. In September 2011, US Lacrosse held a daylong seminar in Little Rock where the teachers — mostly lacrosse neophytes — were taught the basics. Each teacher received nine hours of continuing education credit, a copy of the US Lacrosse Physical Education Curriculum and 30 lacrosse sticks and 30 balls.
The program exists to cultivate appreciation among students for a simple, non-contact version of the game, with hopes of using that enthusiasm as a platform to develop intramural or interscholastic lacrosse in regions of potential growth.
"I think this is the first step to do that in an area that has never heard of the sport or seen it," said Meghan Mulford, programs manager at US Lacrosse.
No matter how a sport develops, its potential players must first grasp its fundamental elements. So Perry reviewed some of the same drills she had used in her three-week introductory course with the students in the fall. Indoor or outdoor, her classes followed a similar pattern. After some jogging, the students broke off into pairs to toss their sticks to each other, switching hands each time. Then five or six students formed a circle, planted their sticks upright on the ground, counted off three seconds and then sprinted to a neighboring teammate’s spot to catch that stick before it fell. The boys would extend the gaps between themselves up to 7 feet, while the girls stayed closer to each other. Laughter echoed throughout the exercise.
Then came the most popular activity. Students sprinted from opposite sides of the floor toward a group of lacrosse and tennis balls at midcourt. Whichever team scooped the most balls and returned them to its side won. The competition was meant as a building block for actual lacrosse (scooping a ground ball in traffic) when the players become more adept.
The US Lacrosse Physical Education Curriculum, which bars stick-to-stick or body-to-body contact, aims to make lacrosse "soft" and as safe as possible in a learning environment. Perry showed her students the correct footwork and hand placement for holding a stick before flinging the ball, and reminded the passer to make eye contact with the recipient before letting loose. Still, there was a little extracurricular twirling during downtime between drills, especially among the boys.
Some sticks "tend to turn into swords or light sabers," Perry said.
Feedback from Perry and other pilot program teachers will help US Lacrosse improve its future physical education curricula. Local groups such as the Little Rock Lacrosse Club will give the students a chance to play outside of class. But the ultimate success of Arkansas lacrosse may boil down to how many people come to share the sentiment of 14-year-old Lauren Pyle.
"Once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun," she said.
— Evin Demirel
► US Lacrosse Physical Education Lacrosse Grants
► US Lacrosse Physical Education Curriculum
► Photo Gallery: PE Grant at Christ Lutheran (Ark.) School
► Seattle School Among Grant Recipients