HYATTSVILLE – During a 2014 family picnic in St. Mary’s County, Bruce Lancaster marveled at the sight of a lacrosse team that he never knew existed.
A young, mostly African-American, boys team with “Prince George’s” pressed on its jerseys playing in a tournament game left Lancaster befuddled.
“I was (thinking), ‘this cannot be from the county that I came from or live in,’” Lancaster said.
Looking for an alternative sport for his 8-year-old son, Miles, to play, Lancaster investigated. The team he encountered was the Prince George’s Pride, a local recreational team that teaches area youth lacrosse throughout the county. He enrolled his son weeks later, hoping Miles would enjoy it.
Three years later, as Miles was at home working on homework on an April afternoon, Lancaster, 47, was at Magruder Park in Hyattsville, fixing players’ sticks and setting up the field for practice. His son is still a part of the Pride, but Lancaster has become a parent/coach while serving as the Vice President of Equipment and a member of the organization’s Board of Trustees.
“In youth sports, often, you become a coach because you are standing on the sidelines. I know how to buckle a chinstrap, so I buckle a chinstrap,” Lancaster said. “That’s how it starts. Then, at the next practice, someone says, ‘Hey Coach’ to you and then the next practice, they give you a hat.”
As parents look for alternative ways to get their children involved in after-school activities, the Prince George’s Pride lacrosse program has stepped up its efforts. With increased exposure, the non-profit side is competing in recreational tournaments while still providing opportunities for county children to learn the sport.
Lacrosse is wildly considered to be the state’s most popular game. Several counties have produced top-tier high school and club talent who have gone on to play nationally.
Meanwhile, at the collegiate level, both the University of Maryland men’s and women’s teams are national champions, while Towson and Johns Hopkins have also been recognized as established powerhouses.
Slowly but surely, lacrosse has gained traction in Prince George’s County as area high schools added the sport to their catalog of varsity sports. With several incarnations since the 1980s, the Pride hosted local clinics throughout the year to help increase its exposure. Still, lacrosse has not grasped a foothold in the county like football, basketball and soccer. More than 100 area children, mostly African-American, play on Pride teams. They mainly rely on word-of-mouth as advertisements, Pride President Justin Ross said.
Practices happen throughout the week for kids of all ages in different parks throughout the county, mainly in College Park and Hyattsville. Skill sets range from the most experienced players to first-timers.
Children are provided donated or lightly used equipment, but end up getting their own once they learn how to scoop, pass and shoot with a stick, U13 Head Coach Ben Horton said. Horton, a former high school lacrosse player, is one of several coaches who have playing experience. Others come from the college ranks or the professional level.
Parents are also active within Pride, despite not knowing the technicalities of the sport. Horton recalled supportive parents in interest meetings curious to learn “the bread and butter of the game.”
“I’ll say to the parents, ‘the sport is huge in this state. I understand it’s new to you, but you have a great state to do your research,’” Horton said. “There are still a lot of parents that do not understand anything about the game, but they have gotten very enthusiastic in seeing their sons and daughters play.”
Ross said it is also a matter of people knowing they exist.
“It’s the official state sport of Maryland, and we have a bunch of incredible kids that were not getting the opportunity to play it,” Ross said. “The sport sells itself. It’s just a matter of letting people know you’re around. Once they get there, they’re hooked, but it’s all about letting people know about it.”
Ross, a former Maryland House Delegate who led the campaign to fund lacrosse throughout the county, led a reorganization of Pride and re-established it as a non-profit called Prince George's Pride Lacrosse Inc. in 2015. Pride is funded through grants, fundraising, donations and sponsorships, Ross said.
The restructuring allowed for the creation of an affiliated club program called PGLC in 2016 that competes with top-flight teams from northern Maryland and Virginia. The club program also gives local players the option of playing with a seasoned team in their neighborhood instead of traveling long distances to play with established clubs, Ross said.
The Pride has not lost their edge in recreational competitions. Last season, the U11 boys’ team went undefeated, winning both the Southern Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association title and the Maryland Youth Lacrosse Tournament.
Ross said the organization will continue to improve on the demand of lacrosse programs throughout the county. A new partnership with the Marlboro Boys and Girls Club Mustangs and establishing their program by the end of last spring was the starting point, with the ultimate goal of creating a county recreational league in the future.
As awareness of lacrosse grows within the county, the Pride hope more players can participate and become a part of the state’s love affair with the game.
“I’m confident that there is going to be a wave of new players in the next five to 10 years,” Lancaster said. “A wave of diversity coming into lacrosse all across the country because of programs like this that are starting and playing at a high level, even recreationally. It’s all about getting it into the mindset of everyone.”
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