First Stick Program History
A child’s first lacrosse stick not only serves as a means to play the sport, but a symbol of life-enhancing values such as confidence, teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership that can be developed through lacrosse.
Those are the hallmarks of the US Lacrosse First Stick Program, which piloted in 2010 through the generous assistance of individual donors who provided an initial gift of $100,000. Since that time, the support of many donors has allowed US Lacrosse to build the First Stick Program into a cornerstone initiative that seeks to expand participation in the sport beyond traditional boundaries and inspire kids to play hard, dream big and act responsibly within the sport of lacrosse and the game of life. “We welcome the opportunity to continually develop the First Stick Program to bring lacrosse to non-traditional and diverse communities where there are barriers for participation,” says Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of US Lacrosse.
The First Stick Program is inspired by the life journey and experiences of its founders, Paul Meyer, Peter Gibson and Lou Delligatti, who were teammates and friends at Oceanside (N.Y.) High School. Grateful for the positive way in which sports shaped their lives, they decided to initiate the First Stick Program to provide opportunities for young people to receive similar benefits through lacrosse.
Meyer grew up in difficult circumstances of addiction, abuse and instability. By age 15, he was living on his own while attending Oceanside High School, where he was introduced to the game of lacrosse, the positive benefits of the high school athletic community, and the Martin Bernstein family, which adopted him during his junior year.
Gibson, Delligatti and Meyer all played football at Oceanside under legendary head football coach Roy Kessenich, father of ESPN lacrosse announcer Quint Kessenich. Coach Kessenich provided a safe, encouraging support system and reliable mentoring for the three young athletes and many others as they journeyed from adolescence to manhood.
Coach Kessenich personally took Meyer under his wing when he arrived at Oceanside High School and encouraged him to join the athletic community, where he played football and lacrosse. As teammates and through athletic competition, Gibson, Delligatti and Meyer discovered they could achieve their personal goals, and learned about commitment, character and community.
Through lacrosse, Meyer was also introduced to the Bernstein family by his teammate and friend, Scott Bernstein. The Bernstein family and its patriarch, Martin B. Bernstein, embodied the spirit of generosity and compassion. They took Meyer in and made him part of their family. Meyer, now a successful businessman, husband and father, lives in Georgia and coaches lacrosse at Greenbrier High School, a program he helped start. He also participates in the local YMCA lacrosse program.
Gibson played three sports - football, baseball and basketball - at Oceanside and was the quarterback for Kessenich’s 1977 county championship team. Now a successful businessman and beloved father, Gibson is working to help develop the Rutgers University student athlete Life Skills Program. He is active in other charities such as the Trenton Boys and Girls Club and Catholic Charities of New Jersey and also helps coach his son’s lacrosse team.
Delligatti, a two-sport athlete in high school, played collegiate lacrosse for Towson University. Delligatti then played 10 years as a professional indoor lacrosse player, coached by Stenersen, among others. He now resides in Augusta, Georgia, where he is the regional sales manager for SignCo and maintains close ties with Meyer and his family.
“I want other young people to have destiny-changing experiences by having access to a sport that requires teamwork, discipline, determination and physical fitness” said Meyer. “A lacrosse stick is more than just a piece of sporting equipment. It symbolizes an opportunity to work hard, achieve your goals and share your gifts.”