This article appears in the May/June edition part of a series on community-based lacrosse leagues that are thriving despite the growing trend toward privatization in youth sports. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse to start your subscription.

Andrew Stanley remembers the moment when the values embodied and taught for 20 years by the volunteer coaches and administrators of Geronimo Lacrosse had been willingly adopted by the next generation.

Stanley, the varsity boys’ lacrosse coach at Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., and the executive director of the area’s first pre-seventh grade youth program, had guided the Cougars to an undefeated 2015 season in advance of a Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinal against cross-town rival St. Christopher’s. In front of a large crowd at the University of Richmond’s Robins Stadium on a Friday night, Collegiate fell, 6-5.

“The next morning, probably 70 percent of our team and 50 percent of their team were at our Geronimo games coaching the little kids,” said Stanley, who grew up in Baltimore and played collegiately at Randolph-Macon. “The high school kids — most of them had come through Geronimo — showed such a bigger perspective for the game. That was a cool element, that they’d understood we’d been trying to emphasize the idea that lacrosse is about others.”

Instilling a fundamental intangible in the program’s 900 players each spring falls in lockstep with Geronimo’s emphasis on teaching tangible fundamentals. The recreation program has provided skill instruction, practices and games for boys’ and girls’ players in first through sixth grades since its 1995 founding by Baltimore transplant Tim O’Shea and Richmond parent Al Rider. The commonwealth’s capital offered no such lacrosse for kids that young until that time.

Geronimo sticks to its core principles, among them teaching the right skills at the right age, keeping the game fun, sportsmanship and thinking. It accomplishes that by a consistent approach that considers families first.

“I do a lot of our registration stuff,” Andrew Vigne, Geronimo’s program administrator, said. “Our schedule hasn’t changed in 20 years — the boys play Saturday mornings; the girls, Sunday afternoons. Same fields.”

Same offense across teams, along with the same rides, clears and blue-and-white reversible jerseys. Same practice schedule for teams in a division, too, to make parents’ transportation duties easier. No fall season because kids need to play other sports as part of their development.

“We’re much more into skill development than X’s and O’s,” Stanley, a trainer in the US Lacrosse Coach Development Program and contributor to the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, said. “We don’t want coaches spending 20 minutes designing a man-up play. We do a quick restart and get them drawing and moving. We want to create thinking players that can see where their next opportunities will be, so they’ll be successful wherever they go in the seventh grade.”

Geronimo’s consistency hasn’t come without innovation, however. Leaders thought a 5-foot by 5-foot goal would suit a particular age group better, so Vigne cut PVC pipe and built a few himself. The program incorporated small-sided activities for younger players before it became fashionable; ditto a more recent influence of box lacrosse skills and drills in the field game, complete with advanced instruction on same for coaches.

All of this has allowed the program to thrive despite the arrival of new programs that travel and play more frequently, often with higher costs to families.

“We’re trying to release some tension from parents who are thinking, ‘I’ve got to do more because so-and-so is doing more,’” Stanley said. “We’ve always been focused on teaching.”

With program alumni turned high school rivals turned co-youth coaches, Geronimo’s instruction appears to be paying off.