Growing up on the East Coast in the 1970s, Lemuel Randolph came to play lacrosse the same way Texas kids find their way to a football field or basketball court.
“It was just something my friends were doing,” said Randolph, the city’s new parks and recreation director, who began playing competitive lacrosse at age 10.
In recent years, the sport has begun to gain a foothold in the Southwest. His son Preston Randolph began playing the sport at an area private school and is now a standout at Episcopal High School, a prep school in Alexandria, Va.
Randolph hopes to bring youth lacrosse to Arlington. “It’s a very attractive sport for kids because you don’t have to be a particular size to play it,” he said. “Everyone has a chance to touch the ball. And it’s a very fast-paced game.”
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To gauge the level of lacrosse interest, the Parks and Recreation Department is hosting four two-day lacrosse clinics in July. The clinics are free for summer day camp participants. Kids not in day camp can also sign up by going to www.naturallyfun.org.
The first clinic is July 7-8 at Cliff Nelson Recreation Center in southwest Arlington. The next session is July 10-11 at Hugh Smith Recreation Center in southeast Arlington. Dottie Lynn Recreation Center in the Pantego/central Arlington area will host the July 14-15 session. And the final session is scheduled for July 16-17 at Elzie Odom Recreation Center in north Arlington. All sessions except the one at Cliff Nelson will be indoors.
Wendy Parker, the city’s athletics director, expects there to be a further round of clinics for would-be lacrosse players on Friday evenings this fall.
“Our main push it to introduce the sport, gain an interest level in it and then eventually start doing a league,” said Tim Baggett, sports manager for the department.
Dallas-based Bridge Lacrosse will provide the equipment and coaching at the clinics. David Higbee, the executive director for Bridge, said his organization has primarily focused on bringing the sports to low-income areas of Dallas. But the organization is starting to help grow the sport in Tarrant County.
“This really fits well for us,” Higbee said. “We’re really just there to spark interest.”
Baggett can remember when soccer was a fledgling sport in North Texas. He’s confident that kids in Arlington will be eager to pick up a lacrosse stick. “Kids will try anything in sports,” Baggett said. “The key is being able to teach them.”
Higbee said their key role after the summer clinics will be to provide coaching clinics to train a group of volunteers to take over teaching the sport and coach lacrosse teams if Arlington is able to establish a recreational league.
Of course, establishing a new sport in a city the size of Arlington isn’t easy. “It takes coaching to be able to teach the skills and then we have to find the field space with all the other sports going on,” Randolph said.
Lacrosse leagues have been introduced and are sticking around in many North Texas communities, including nearby Colleyville and Fort Worth. “There’s no reason Arlington shouldn’t have one either,” Higbee said. “Once you introduce the kids to it, it’s an easy sport to enjoy. The rest is just having the resources around them.”
Parker sees lacrosse as an ideal youth sport for Arlington. The parks department tries to promote an active lifestyle and teach life skills through sports, and lacrosse accomplishes both goals, Parker said.
“Our goal is always to get them off the couch and get some physical activity going and get them communicating with each,” Parker said.
And if they see their friends playing, maybe kids in Arlington will develop the same appreciation for lacrosse that Randolph gained at a young age.