Lacrosse program challenged

Growth: With 1,722 boys and girls participating, the Howard County Lacrosse Program is having growing pains.

Howard At Play

April 11, 2004|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Joe Dougherty jokes that his title is "the boss of all bosses," but he's not kidding - the responsibilities of his organization would leave a business executive trembling.

As director of the Howard County Lacrosse Program, Dougherty oversees a program that has 1,722 boys and girls playing lacrosse on fields throughout the county. From a small beginning about two decades ago, the club has grown into the largest youth lacrosse organization in the Baltimore area.

HCLP operates almost year-round - counting spring, fall and indoor play - with a budget of about $185,000, generated mostly by the $110 fee to play. Most of HCLP's budget is spent on equipment, uniforms and referees.

That scale of operation has produced growing pains, necessitating improved management and a stronger line of succession and training for volunteers, all of which is becoming more evident.

"I grew in my role, and my participation in the game went from a parent yelling encouragement to coach to helping administratively," said Dougherty, who, along with four other executive board members, was elected at the end of last spring to a two-year term.

Along with Dougherty, Ellicott City's Drew Clark, vice president of boys operations; Kathy Black, vice president of girls operations; Jack Milani, treasurer; and Mark Carter, a boys coordinator and travel coach, make up the executive board. Black, Milani and Carter live in Glenwood.

Other leaders have field and equipment duties.

All those in top leadership positions also coach, except Dougherty, who sees more organizational changes coming - among them, a larger board to spread the workload.

But what the club needs most quickly, Dougherty said, is coaches, particularly at the recreation level, where players learn the sport's fundamentals and rudiments of team play.

For the first time, the club had to put a few girls on waiting lists for teams, said Ellicott City's Jeanne Queen, in her first year as coordinator for the girls recreation-level program.

Because of a lack of coaches, Queen said, the size of teams was expanded from the usual 18 players to as many as 21.

"It is growing," said Queen, a former University of Maryland Baltimore County player. "Well over 100 11 to 12s tried out for two travel teams."

The club's limitations, Clark said, "are the quantity of field space and coaches. Those are the only limits we see because the growth is so large."

Milani, who grew up in a lacrosse-playing family in Catonsville, said the program offers coaching clinics with high school and college classes and items such as drill books.

Clark said, "People can get up to speed pretty quickly and grow with the sport as their kids grow."

To address field shortages, HCLP is recruiting volunteers to check fields to see how playable they are after it rains. They may be able to get some games in on those fields that dry while protecting the more swampy spots.

The field problem will take longer to solve, but having some fields in the county with artificial turf will help, Dougherty said. A Department of Recreation and Parks proposal for the next fiscal year would cover three fields with synthetic turf, and a business owner has proposed a gift of a fourth artificial surface at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia.

HCLP's leaders are collectively dreaming of raising enough money to have their own fields complex someday.

Another dream that club leaders have had for a couple of years is playing in a tournament against longtime rival program Catonsville for the newly named Retriever Cup, named for the mascot of teams from UMBC, which has allowed the two clubs to use its stadium for games.

Four boys teams from each program played April 3, and four girls teams will face off Saturday. The program that wins the most games will get to keep the Retriever Cup for a year

While players are at UMBC, they will have an opportunity to watch a college game.

Such activities tie in with HCLP's goals for this year, which Dougherty said are that kids "learn to love [lacrosse], learn to play it, and winning is a distant third."

Clark added, "They learn sportsmanship, develop knowledge about lacrosse and, most importantly, have fun."

HCLP facts

The Howard County Lacrosse Program has 887 boys and 835 girls playing this spring. Here's how that breaks down by teams:

Ages Boys Girls

5-6 8 7

7-8 14 14

9-10, rec 12 10

9-10, travel 2 2

11-12, rec 12 9

11-12, travel 2 2

13-14, rec 7 5

13-14, travel 2 2

Note: There is one boys travel team for 8-year-olds.

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