Friendships across the Atlantic


British-American girls lacrosse exchange has built ties for years

At Play


The friendship between 16-year-olds Amy Harrison and Stephanie Higgins looks pretty typical on the surface.

They both play lacrosse, regularly e-mail each other and have been to each other's houses. The difference is where the houses are: Harrison lives in Arnold while Higgins resides an ocean away in Mellor, England.

This summer, Higgins came to America for a second time to visit Harrison as part of Crosseover Lacrosse, a 10-year-old, locally founded exchange program. Teenagers from Anne Arundel County head overseas in odd-numbered years while the English come to town in even-numbered ones.

The 22-member Stockport Metros, a girls team from just south of Manchester, arrived last week for a busy 15-day visit that will mix lacrosse with sightseeing and solidify friendships.

"You learn so much about a new culture and the game of lacrosse itself," said Harrison, set to start her junior year at St. Mary's School in Annapolis. "When you go over to a different country, you just kind of grow up."

Higgins said she has enjoyed seeing how the games are different in the States.

"There's a lot more support, with the audience and the crowds. People take it a lot more seriously here. In England, hardly anyone knows what it is."

The Metros, who arrived Thursday, are playing seven games against a variety of local teams: St. Mary's/Annapolis, CapLax (Arnold), Senior League All-Stars, Central Lacrosse (Edgewater) and Broadneck.

The final game Aug. 2 is called the Friendship Game, where the 22 English girls play against a team of the 22 girls whose families are hosting them.

Girls ages 13 to 16 are eligible to take part after being nominated by their coaches and organizations. Anne Arundel boys had taken part in this program for several years before the girls started in 1996 and have kept on going. Two English boys teams in their Crosseover program will arrive next week.

Steve Willett and Don Harrison, Amy Harrison's father, are the co-directors of the girls' program. Willett said he loves watching how friendships and relationships grow.

"A lot of times, these kids will become friends for life," Willett said. "This is probably the biggest hotbed in the world for women's lacrosse, and lacrosse is really just an excuse to put this together. It's really more of a cultural exchange. It kind of shows the kids that the world is not quite as big a place as they think."

During this stay, the English girls are getting a whirlwind tour of the area. They went to Washington on Monday and saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Air and Space Museum and several war memorials.

This weekend will be a free one, and a group of parents are taking their girls to Ocean City, while others are headed to New York City. Some are going to Long Island to play in a lacrosse tournament. Other trips built into the schedule are the Naval Academy -- a place Higgins loved during her last visit -- and Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.

Don Harrison said there's so much more to these trips than lacrosse. He said he enjoyed hearing the girls trade slang words and expressions over dinner Monday. Harrison found out that "fit as a butcher's dog" meant healthy and athletic. A "deaf-and-dumb dinner" is what happens after a quarrel with your spouse.

"It's great fun, and you learn a lot of different things," he said. "And you really do make friendships."

Debs Potts is the head coach of the Stockport team. She's been involved with the program for eight years as a player and a coach, and this is her fourth trip to Anne Arundel County.

"I think the big thing I enjoy about it is seeing the girls achieve while playing lacrosse, learning and just ... having the friendships through lacrosse and establishing really, really good relationships," Potts said. "It's amazing -- it's a big learning curve for them coming over here. It's really advantageous for their own personal development."

Potts also said it's "fantastic" how families take people into their homes with open arms. It's a big reason why Higgins looked forward to staying with the Harrisons a second time. "I'm really close with them now," she said.

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