It’s been around for thousands of years and widely known to be played by Native Americans, both historically and in modern times. The only problem with this incredibly exciting sport is that public enlightenment has not quite caught up with player enthusiasm. Think women’s basketball before the WNBA. Think world-class tennis before Billie Jean King.
In fact, when former tennis champ James Blake was recently asked why more American men weren’t winning Grand Slams, he said, “I think it’s the fact that there is a lot more competition in the States. There is basketball, there’s football, there’s baseball. Soccer has become more popular in the States. Lacrosse has become more popular.”
According to U.S. Lacrosse, national lacrosse participation topped 825,000 players in 2016; the number of youth players topped 450,000.
The Hoboken Lacrosse Club is doing its part to introduce the sport to a broader audience. President Sean Sargent cofounded the club with Dr. Mike Kelly and Richie MacDonnell; all three are former college lacrosse players.
Right away Sargent dives into an eager celebration of the game—“It’s the fastest-growing sport in America”—but anyone who’s watched it or played it doesn’t need to be convinced.
“It’s a fun, exciting game,” he says. “It’s fast-paced. It’s got the speed of basketball, the impact and physicality of hockey, played on a field the size of a soccer field. It’s fun to watch and a great game for student athletes.”
This very old sport is still popular among Native Americans. “They’re phenomenal lacrosse players,” Sargent says. “Honoring the game is a big deal in lacrosse. Tribes played it for the pleasure of the Creator and to settle intertribal disputes.”
Here in Hoboken the lacrosse club plays from late March or early April to early June, weather permitting, on the field at 1600 Park. Sargent, strategic sales executive at MuleSoft, has lived in Hoboken for 15 years. “We moved here, fell in love with the town, and raised our kids here,” he says. One of those kids plays lacrosse.
“I love a town on the water,” he says, “with great food, proximity to the city, and with a great sense of community.”
Though Stevens has its own men’s and women’s teams, Sargent says, “There was nothing for youth.” Thanks to the Hoboken Lacrosse Club, which played its first game in the spring of 2014, now there is, for kids from third to eighth grades—three boys’ teams and three girls’ teams. They practice one night a week and have games on Saturdays. Kids from other local communities can register if their towns do not have a lacrosse program.
“But we need more field time,” Sargent says, “and have been struggling to grow without field time,” adding that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini have been very supportive of the club.
“Jersey City has a youth lacrosse program, and they’re our main rivals,” Sargent says. “It’s a healthy competition.”
About 16 men and women volunteer to help the club. Hoboken has a surprising number of former college players, and some volunteers are parents of kids who play with the club. “The Stevens men’s and women’s teams have been great partners in teaching Hoboken kids the game,” Sargent says.
Some kids, Sargent says, “have never seen or touched a stick before. Some kids just don’t get it; it doesn’t feel great. And some kids would be on the field six days a week” if they could.
A unique feature of youth lacrosse is that boys and girls play different versions of the game. “The boys’ game is much rougher, like hockey without skates, and the girls’ game is more elegant with not as much physical contact,” Sargent says. “They wanted to keep the girls’ game pure. It’s all about stick control and movement rather than rough, physical play. But they’re looking at changing the rules, so the girls’ game would be edgier and rougher.”
The Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) was launched in June 2017. As to that edgier girls’ game? “The athletes are bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled,” says WPLL founder Michele DeJuliis. “The pace is … incredible. The WPLL will continue to push boundaries and innovate the way the game is played.”
DeJuliis says the league is “both a professional lacrosse league and a development program for rising talent in our sport.” It “prioritizes character development as a means to excelling in life on and off the field.”
Sounds like a good goal for the girls and boys in the Hoboken Lacrosse Club.—Kate Rounds
Hoboken Lacrosse Club registration for new players will begin Jan. 1, 2018. Visit hobokenlacrosseclub.com. A great resource for parents is US Lacrosse. Visit uslacrosse.org.