Arlington camps introduce kids to lacrosse

07/14/2014 3:28 PM

07/14/2014 3:29 PM

Basketball’s his favorite sport, but Christion Whitaker was eager to try something new.

Christion, 10, is one of several dozen boys and girls who participated in a free two-day lacrosse clinic last week at Cliff Nelson Recreation Center in southwest Arlington.

Dallas-based BRIDGE Lacrosse is putting on the clinics at each of the city’s four rec centers this month to expose kids to a traditionally Northern sport that’s growing in popularity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Would Christion play lacrosse again? “Maybe, because this helps me with my basketball skills, like moving and catching and stuff,” he said.

The first day of the clinic was a challenge because the game was new to him, but Christion had picked up some of the key skills by the end of day two.

“Yesterday I was real good, and today I got a little bit better — even better on my catching,” Christion said. “When they throw it from really far away, sometimes I catch it, sometimes I don’t.”

Christion could soon have a chance to play hone his lacrosse skills. The city is looking into launching a recreational lacrosse league, perhaps as early as next year, said Jimmy Reilly, the city’s youth sports manager.

“We’re looking at the possibly of doing some clinics in the fall on Friday evenings and try to keep on spreading the word,” Reilly said.

As promising as the sport of lacrosse could be, Reilly knows there’s more work to be done before a league could start. When soccer sign-ups happen, kids come out in droves. Same with T-ball and basketball. Lacrosse isn’t there yet.

“Right now if we were to throw out registration like we do for soccer and basketball and T-ball, we wouldn’t have many sign up,” Reilly said. “We’ve got to get people interested and educated. But I could see us taking off pretty fast.”

In every youth sport, Reilly depends heavily on parents to step in as volunteer coaches. But given how few parents from this region had the chance to play lacrosse growing up, they’ll have to get a crash course on the game before they feel prepared to coach, Reilly said.

“What I normally do with basketball and T-ball and soccer is I nicely convince parents to coach,” Reilly said. “But with lacrosse we’re going to have to go through an education process with these parents.”

Lacrosse is already second nature to 8-year-old Austin Punzalan, who demonstrated his experience at the two-day Cliff Nelson clinic. “I play lacrosse a lot,” Austin said. “It’s a sport that’s been inspired by my cousin because he’s won a lot of tournaments. … I enjoy this sport a lot. I’m really good at this sport.”

Diney Hobgood of BRIDGE Lacrosse, who helped coach the clinic, isn’t surprised that the children seemed to take to this sport — even ones who, unlike Austin, had never picked up a lacrosse stick before. “The intent of all of these clinics is to expose them to the sport,” Hobgood said. “A lot of them have never seen it before. Maybe they’ll like it and want to come back.”

With leagues popping up in places like Colleyville and Coppell, it’s not hard for her to envision the sport gaining a foothold in Arlington.

“In a lot of the suburbs in Dallas, it’s just exploded in the past 10 years,” Hobgood said. “As long it’s done the right way, it will succeed.”

Reilly can see the sport taking hold in Arlington, too. After all, the children he was watching seemed to be picking up the sport’s basics with little trouble. Some, he said, even seemed like they’d been playing lacrosse for a year or two, instead of a couple days.

“They all get it,” Reilly said. “They’re catching on real fast. There’s a few of them that seem to be naturals. But they’re the ones that would probably be naturals at any sport.”

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