It's not the usual venue for launching a musical career. Thousands of kids dressed in lacrosse gear are all around, some floating past the stage or milling in groups nearby. Off to the side, in a tent set up amid lacrosse fields, two young women arrange T-shirts and tapes emblazoned with the name of their new pop duo.
But for those two young women -- 17-year-old Kelley Hagood and 19-year-old Marina Harrison -- this weekend's performance at the LAX Splash youth lacrosse tournament outside of Phoenix, Md., was probably their best chance at boosting the fan base for their band, By Chanz. If their debut single is going to be a hit anywhere, it's here, among the more than 4,000 young lacrosse players.
Hagood and Harrison, dressed in tournament T-shirts, pastel shorts and flip-flops, take the stage and grab their mikes. The taped music starts and they begin to sing:
Chargin' down the field, heart poundin' in my chest.
Mom's cheerin', `Come on girl!' I'm dyin' for a breath.
Cradlin' the ball with my weapon of choice.
Mouthpiece in my jaw as I'm chargin' toward the crease."
So begins "LAX Girl -- Lax World," the song By Chanz hopes will become a lacrosse anthem and put them on the road to their ultimate goal -- the superstar status of teen singers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
"It's a jock-jam song," says Hagood, a junior who still plays lacrosse on her high school team. "It's about a player getting frustrated and in the end, winning the game."
Girls in uniform brandishing lacrosse sticks stop and gawk as By Chanz performs. By the time the duo is ready to leave the stage, they have to wade through a crowd of curious new young fans.
"They were really awesome," shouts Ashby Kaetner, a 12-year-old from Talbot. "And it was all about lacrosse!"
She's partly right. It's also about marketing, opportunity and a couple of teen-age dreams. Early start
Kelley Hagood began singing in elementary school in Annapolis. She performed in plays and at summer camps, but when she hit the ripe old age of 12, she buckled down and got serious.
"I actually realized [a singing career] was in my grasp," she says. By high school, Hagood was looking to break into the musical industry big-time. She asked her parents if she could take vocal lessons, which led her to voice coach Renee Diggs.
Wes Hagood, Kelley's dad and now By Chanz's manager, recalled that Diggs had been a member of Starpoint, a soul music sextet whose single "Object of My Desire" went gold in the mid-'80s. Diggs worked to strengthen Kelley's voice and teach her to really belt out tunes. She also introduced her to Ernesto Phillips.
Phillips, also a member of Starpoint, went into record production and promotion, and now owns Pearl and Longevity Records, both in Columbia. But it was a little magic he made in 1989 that most impressed the Hagoods. Phillips is credited with launching Toni Braxton's career, and the Hagoods were hoping lightning might strike twice with Kelley.
Phillips thought Kelley had a good voice, but that something was missing. Both he and Wes Hagood had the same idea: a female answer to boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys -- "but one taken more seriously than the Spice Girls," Phillips says.
Wes Hagood called music directors at area schools and asked them to put the word out. Enter Marina Harrison, who's been singing and dancing since she was a tot. Harrison, who will enter her sophomore year at the University of Maryland next semester, auditioned, then stressed for a month before finally getting a call back along with a few others.
"But some were just more serious about it," Wes Hagood says, explaining why By Chanz ended up as a duo. "Some didn't have the parental support." Read: financial support. Along with her talent, Harrison had backing from her parents, so ultimately only she made the cut.
"[Performing] is her gift," says Marina's mom, Nancy Harrison, who first realized her daughter's talent when Marina sang in a fourth-grade production. "I couldn't stand in her way."
Once By Chanz was cast, there was another hurdle: The duo had no songs and neither girl seemed keen on writing them, says Wes Hagood. Which was just as well. He had a plan for them anyway.
"One of the things that any group needs," he says, "is good material that targets a specific audience." In the case of Maryland, Wes Hagood decided there was a natural target market: the lacrosse community.
"[Maryland] has always been the nation's hotbed for the sport," says Nate Ewell, editor of Lacrosse Magazine, which is published by U.S. Lacrosse, the Maryland-based national governing body of the game. "And it's growing at the youth level faster than anywhere else."
Just 2 percent of the nation's lacrosse players are above age 30, and 44 percent of them are younger than 14 -- precisely the audience teen bands hope to capture. And both members of By Chanz also played the sport.