This article appears in the November edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today! Thank you for your support.

In recent years, the Laconia (N.H.) Lacrosse Club has found a simple recipe for success — make it fun.

“We try to build it into a community, not just a sport,” said Paul Marinace, the girls’ director for the club. “We have winter clinics, do a lot of promotion at the elementary schools and word of mouth is huge. We try to give the kids a really good experience — fun practices, beach days, bike rides. When they think of all the fun they have during the season, they bring their friends along.”

It has worked.

Five years ago, the program had just one girls’ team — a combined third- through sixth-grade team with 22 girls who Paul’s wife, Rose Marie Marinace, coached.

The club has grown to six girls’ teams, including multiple teams at the 10U and 12U age levels, and nearly 100 players. The boys’ program, meanwhile, has teams at every age level from 8U through 14U.

But just as practices were set to start for the 2020 spring season, the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down.

“We kept them in the loop and told the parents that we were planning to hold practices as soon as we were allowed,” said Paul Marinace, who coaches three of the girls’ teams.

New Hampshire has had one of the lowest counts of COVID-19 cases in the country and Laconia, located in the central part of the state, sits in a county which is among those with the fewest cases in the state.

That combination of factors led to an overwhelming response when the calls went out in late June to see if the girls’ lacrosse players were interested to get back on the field after the governor allowed youth sports to resume practices.

Initially, the practices primarily served the purpose of reacquainting with friends and venting over their shared misfortune.

“A lot of them were pretty cooped up with no school and no friends for three months,” Marinace said. 

According to Marinace, at one of the practices, a 9-year-old girl asked, “Can we just sit in a circle and talk about how corona has ruined our lives?”

“The first few weeks, getting them together was the main goal and that was very rewarding,” Marinace said. “As the season went on, it was more about lacrosse.”

By early July, the governor had lifted restrictions to allow games to take place. Marinace began calling around to other clubs in the state to see if they were playing. Many of the lacrosse programs in New Hampshire are in the southern portion of the state, near the Massachusetts border, which had much higher rates of COVID-19 infection. Most of those programs had not resumed activities, but Marinace was able to set up a game with a program from Bow, N.H.

“All of our 8U girls were new and half of our 10U had never been in any type of competition,” Marinace said. “For a lot of the 8U girls, it was their first experience with a team sport. Just knowing there was a game coming gave them some focus. One of the biggest reasons we wanted to have a game was to give them a goal to work towards.”

According to Marinace, at the time, Laconia was one of just two community-based programs in the state — the New Hampshire Youth Lacrosse Association encompasses 36 towns — that practiced and played games over the summer. They emphasized fun and team building. On especially hot days, they had practices and picnics at a state park on Lake Winnipesaukee.

In a note to US Lacrosse New England regional manager Ryan Larkum, Marinace wrote, “Game day arrived, and both teams met in Laconia on a beautiful, sunny day, on a perfectly lined field, with families spaced six feet apart on the sidelines and a referee wearing a mask. We didn’t have draws — to keep the girls separated — but otherwise it was a perfectly normal game with tough competition and tons of enthusiasm!”

“The enthusiasm from both the players and families was electric,” Marinace wrote. “For one hour, it felt like a regular life. The game ended nearly in a tie, and everyone was so happy to have had a tiny season.”

Following that special day, the teams played four more in-house games. The summer wrapped up as an eight-week season with no COVID-related health incidents and a desire for the girls to play even more.

“They can’t wait to get back out there this spring,” Marinace said.

LOCALLY GROWN: NEW ENGLAND

Connecticut

With the help of US Lacrosse physical education and soft stick grants, Huckleberry Hill Elementary School successfully implemented lacrosse into its PE curriculum last year. Area coaches visited the school and guided teachers on ways to teach the sport in school. More than 1,000 kids used the equipment.

Massachusetts

The Dudley-Charlton Youth Lacrosse Association has used a US Lacrosse First Stick Program grant to provide young athletes (grades K-2) who might not have the means to purchase equipment an opportunity to play lacrosse for the first time. Families can participate for at least two years before they are asked to invest in equipment for their kids.

Vermont

Mad River Valley Youth Lacrosse used US Lacrosse’s Return to Play guidelines, integrating them with state mandates to get youth players back on the field over the summer. The league also invited players from the neighboring Stowe and Waterbury communities to provide an outlet for boys grades 3-8. “We had to do something for the youth lacrosse players of central Vermont,” league president Chris Lamonia said. “Kids just needed to get out of the house and run.”