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.

Stephen Fossati developed his love for lacrosse in the hotbed of New Jersey in the late 1970s. He honed his craft at Manhattanville College, where he played as a goalie and put up 897 career saves — a mark that stands among the top totals in NCAA history.

Fossati’s lacrosse journey started in an area with a rich lacrosse history. But decades ago, he made the choice to move to Los Angeles, leaving behind the lacrosse roots founded on the East Coast.

Now a father to Sophia, a lacrosse player herself, Fossati is trying to give back to the Los Angeles area. It’s an area still developing its foothold in the lacrosse sphere, but Fossati is determined to give girls in the area the same chance he had to love the game of lacrosse.

Fossati founded Santa Monica Vikings Youth Lacrosse in 2008. Despite being just 11 years old, it is one of the most developed youth lacrosse programs in L.A. The community lacrosse organization launched with a group of girls just hoping to find space to play lacrosse.

“I’d call one of the other people I knew that had a couple of players and I’d say, ‘Hey, I have a field this Saturday. If you have enough girls, we can get together for a game,’” Fossati said. “We’d get together and have a 6-on-6. That wasn’t terribly effective, so we acted on the suggestion of one of those people who said we should start a league.”

Fossati launched the Pacific Edge Lacrosse Association in 2015 and pulled in different community organizations from around the South Bay area, which includes Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Long Beach and Palos Verdes.

PELA started with 70 girls across multiple age groups, all compiled into three teams that competed against one another when they could find field space. Now, PELA boasts more than 600 girls’ lacrosse players on 18 middle school teams, 12 elementary school teams and nine kindergarten-second grade teams.

For Fossati, the growth of his program is a testament to the budding lacrosse movement in Los Angeles.

“The idea originally was that if we build a league, they’ll come,” he said. “Lo and behold, the programs that were there at the start of the league attracted more girls into their program who said, ‘Hey, I want to try this thing called lacrosse.’ As much as PELA is about lacrosse, growing the game is more about being part of that community and what those teams can do for those kids. The community-based program is changing their outlook and their understanding of what they can do. That’s remarkable. That’s why we do it.”