Transfers trying to bring northern sport to St. Al

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 15, 2002

[05/15/02]Take a couple of transplanted students and add a dash of enthusiasm and a sprinkle of contact, and you have the recipe for the latest sport at St. Aloysius.

Lacrosse, a popular sport in the northeast and west coast, is catching on at the school. Only one other high school in Mississippi, St. Andrew’s in Jackson, currently has a team, but nearly 30 students signed up for a series of introductory clinics at St. Al and supporters hope to have a team playing by next year.

“I’m happy that some came out, and I think it’s a success that any of them did,” said Vince Chiarito, a Vicksburg resident who played lacrosse in college and volunteered to run the clinics after a parent noticed a lacrosse sticker on his car and approached him with the offer.

Lacrosse resembles a blend of football and hockey. The object of the game is to throw a rubber ball into a goal using a stick with a small net on one end. Players wear shoulder pads and helmets, and bodychecking is permitted on players who are carrying the ball or near the ball.

“As soon as we say contact, they’re like OK’,” St. Al freshman Lance Logan said with a laugh. “They don’t care about anything else as long as they can hit somebody.”

Logan and eighth-grader Tim Clapp started the push for lacrosse last fall. The two had played at their old schools in Memphis and Virginia, respectively, but were left without a team when their parents were transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg.

They became friends and brought their sticks to school. They would toss a ball around at lunchtime, and eventually other students became interested. Some had played lacrosse in camps or seen it on television, but most had no idea how to play.

“I played lacrosse before at a camp and it was fun,” St. Al freshman Charles Sassone said. “I always liked doing new stuff and not following the crowd.”

Logan and Clapp then convinced their parents to approach St. Al officials about fielding a club team, which would play year-round and is only loosely affiliated with the school.

St. Al principal Alan Powers agreed to let the team use the football field and a smaller practice field at the school, as well as the school colors and nickname, but the program receives no financial support from St. Al and all coaches, planning and administration are done on a volunteer basis.

The entire $275 budget for balls and sticks is being paid for by a committee of parents. Judy Ward, Logan’s mother, said there was some resistance from St. Al coaches who feared losing players to the new sport, but overall the response was positive.

“I wasn’t surprised how enthusiastic the kids were. There’s a lot of good athletes at St. Al and the kids want to do anything new,” Ward said. “I’m glad (officials) are so open-minded and have the foresight to see that this could be a good thing.”

Chiarito, a research structural engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, had played on club teams at the University of Delaware and Texas A&M. He called himself “retired”, but took the opportunity to introduce a new generation to lacrosse.

“I still have some interest in the game and there didn’t appear to be anyone else that could do it,” Chiarito said.

Chiarito scheduled five clinics, with the last set for Thursday, to teach basic skills such as throwing and catching.

“We call them clinics because there really isn’t a team yet,” Chiarito said. “I think those that have been coming have learned a few skills. There’s a lot to the game they aren’t seeing yet.”

After the clinics, support for a team will be judged again. If it’s still strong, Ward said the parents’ committee hopes to have several more clinics in the fall conducted by a representative of the U.S. Lacrosse Association.

If there is still enough interest after that, Ward said a team would be formed. The parents’ committee would organize fund-raisers for pads and helmets and participate in an equipment-loaning program sponsored by the USLA.

The goal is to play one game against St. Andrew’s by the spring.

Clapp and Logan were enthusiastic about the sport’s future in Mississippi, but were also realistic. Neither said they expected it to take off overnight, and pointed to the Memphis area as an example of how the sport can grow.

Less than a decade ago, only two schools in Memphis played lacrosse. Now, five Memphis-area high schools and 15 in Tennessee have teams, and youth programs are beginning to take hold.

“Probably two or three years. Once people understand how it’s played and see an actual game I think they’ll like it. It’s contact, which a lot of people love,” said Clapp, whose brother played lacrosse for Army. “If we start playing, there might be other schools that start playing.”