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.

Sometimes a program is more than just a program.

When Bob Slate moved to Saugerties, N.Y., in the late 1980s for a teaching position, there was one big thing missing — lacrosse. 

“I remember coming down here and he said, ‘There’s no lacrosse in this area. It can’t be possible,’” recalled his wife, Darcy Slate.

Slate, a collegiate goalie at Buffalo State, got his lacrosse fix serving as an assistant coach at Marist College before taking over as the head coach at nearby Kingston High School in 1991. In 2001, he became the first head coach of the boys’ lacrosse program at Saugerties High School.

But there was more to be done. In 2006, he started the Saugerties Area Youth Lacrosse (SAY-LAX) program. His son, Nick, a two-year collegiate player at Potsdam State, got his start in the sport through the program. Slate also started the referees’ organization for Section IX in New York. 

“He would never sit around and let someone else do it,” Darcy Slate said. “He always jumped in and did it.”

“He had many successes at Kingston and Saugerties, but his heart was always with the youth,” she added. “He just loved it.”

That’s what has made the recent success and re-incarnation of SAY-LAX all the more special.

Slate stepped away from the youth program in 2017.

“He was worried,” Darcy Slate said. “There was not a lot of involvement and he didn’t have the energy. He left very concerned it was just going to fall away and that bothered him a lot.”

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2018, Slate died in December 2019.

One thing he got to see was how much of an impact his life had.

“He was a guy that he didn’t have a lot of self-confidence,” Darcy Slate said. “When he got sick, the cards and letters from former players and students he taught said how much he meant to them. In his illness, he realized he did make a difference and he did matter. In the last days before he died, it was all former lacrosse players that wanted to come and see him. They had to see him one last time. Those were difficult days, but how touching it was to see all of these big guys grasping onto his hand and telling them how much he meant.”

One thing Slate didn’t get to see was what happened with the youth program after he left.

In 2019, Justin MacDougall, who was taking his own kids to Kingston for lacrosse, started work on revitalizing the SAY-LAX program. He wanted to build it from the ground up and started small with a summer camp.

The league worked on cross-promotions with a local flag football league and with the local USA Hockey program to encourage multi-sport participation. A TryLax grant from US Lacrosse helped spur interest and a First Stick Program grant from US Lacrosse helped reduce the start-up equipment costs for some of the interested first-year players.

What had started with about 20 players in 2019 shot up to 77 in 2020. Everything was going great, and then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“It was really disheartening at first,” MacDougall said. “Like most organizations, we felt paralyzed. We did what we needed to do and then, ‘Here we are, what can we do?’”

Following the US Lacrosse Return to Play recommendations and New York State protocols, SAY-LAX proceeded, even bigger than planned. When the local Little League baseball program canceled its season, another 25 players signed up to play lacrosse with SAY-LAX.

It started with Zoom sessions, conditioning and parents getting small groups together. On July 7, SAY-LAX held its first practices of the season. You couldn’t have picked a more perfect date — it was Bob Slate’s birthday.

Over the next several weeks, the kids were back on the field.

“For New York State, it was no-contact lacrosse,” MacDougall said. “We couldn’t travel. We focused on what we could do. The last couple of practices, we had small-sided games with each other. It worked out. The bottom line is the kids walked away happy. The parents walked away happy. It was definitely hard, but we did it.”

A special visitor to one of those practice sessions was Darcy Slate.

“When Justin stepped in, Bob didn’t really get to see how much it blossomed,” she said. “If he could have seen what I saw, it would have made him so happy.”

LOCALLY GROWN: NORTHEAST

Hudson Valley 

Tappan Zee Youth Lacrosse believes in building community through lacrosse and looks to instill “TZ pride” in its players. One coach suits up as the high school mascot and steps in the goal for them to shoot on him during clinics. The players also get divided based on what side of Route 303 they live — the River Rats and Shanks Soldiers. Reciprocally, the varsity coaches put on clinics for new and developing youth coaches. “We make sure our values are aligned,” said Brian Murray, director of TZYL.

Philadelphia 

Phantastix Lacrosse in Wayne, Pa., sported pink socks all season in support of a fifth-grade girl, named Lily, who underwent chemotherapy treatments for high-risk neuroblastoma. Proceeds were donated to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to support pediatric cancer research. Lily FaceTimed with teammates before games, created offensive sets and even attended one practice to play catch from a safe social distance.

Rochester 

Churchville-Chili Lacrosse Club in suburban Rochester, N.Y., supports the local school district lacrosse programs and fields its own boys’ and girls’ teams at youth levels for league play. Additionally, there’s indoor offseason league play and practices. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club designed a new program to comply with the state mandates for low-contact activities, ordering custom face coverings for players and running short, fun, socially distanced sessions focusing on athlete development.