Lacrosse enthusiasts flock to league play

Recreation: Howard teams draw together players with a wide range of ages and talent for a common athletic passion.

Howard At Play

July 30, 2000|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you offer them a league, they will come.

The fields of dreams this summer for more than 400 male lacrosse players are Ilchester's Rockburn Branch Park or Columbia's Cedar Lane Park. There, four evenings a week, sweat-soaked players - including former all-Americans, current college stars, those from the club ranks, a few just out of high school and aging weekend warriors - get yet another chance to play the game they love.

The 20-team Howard County Men's Summer Lacrosse League, the most ever for the county, is thought to be probably the largest such league in lacrosse-crazy metropolitan Baltimore.

Some teams are composed of college players; others are made up of guys who can barely remember college. Half or more are from Howard County.

"My team is a little bit different," says James Meyer, 28, who plays for Meyer says the majority of his team played high school and club ball but not college. Many on the team also played for Bud Light, a defunct team that won a Central Atlantic club-league title a few years ago.

Meyer says he would like to start another club team, "but the problem is getting fields."

That lack of field space - particularly lighted surfaces so teams can play the running-intensive game in the relative cool of summer evenings - in other areas contributes to the success of the Howard County league, which began in 1992 with four teams.

When teams from other counties, including a large contingent from Montgomery County, lost their fields, they opted to drive to Howard County to play, says Michael Milani, a sports supervisor for Howard County Recreation and Parks who plays in the league.

The rapidly growing league, sponsored by Warrior Lacrosse and Ellicott City's Play It Again Sports, has had to limit teams and doesn't allow practices, because of a lack of field space.

But it's doubtful that players such as Tano Arrogancia of Towson need much practice anyway. Arrogancia, 37, plays for Christy's, a team named for his daughter. The former Syracuse University player coaches Pikesville High School's boys lacrosse team. Some of his recent Pikesville graduates make up Christy's roster, along with collegiate players from Georgetown, Limestone and Cornell.

Elkridge native Michael Rice, 27, plays attack for Coach's Sporting Goods, a team that has been in the league since 1995. Rice says it is the playoffs that are fun; after an eight-game season, all 20 teams make the single-elimination playoffs, which begin this week.

Milani adds that some of the best games are those in which older players face off against the college hot shots.

"It's a different style of play," he says. The oldest players - including a 45-year-old goalie - are in their late 30s and early 40s. Rice notes that the league boasts standout players such as Tom Gravante, a three-time all-American at Hobart who coaches at Mount St. Mary's, and Chris Remington, a two-time all-American from Georgetown who commutes from Bethesda to play.

The men play by improvised club rules - six long sticks are allowed, 15-minute quarters with running time and two-minute stops and starts at the end of each half, and two officials. And unlike club ball, played in the spring, no travel is involved.

"It's pretty much `show up and play,'" Milani says. A team can enter the league for $650, but two teams were formed to accommodate individual players who were looking for a place to play and paid $45 each.

Unlike the Maryland Summer League, a highly competitive Baltimore City league that showcases some of the sport's best talent, the Howard County league is geared more toward simply providing a chance to play.

"Our league is for the older guy," Meyer says, "but don't get the idea it's not competitive."

The final goal for most players, he says, is "to come out of the game with some new friends and some good stories."

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