Liberty Lacrosse Club forms new Eastside youth program

May 1, 2013

By Joe Grove

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By Greg Farrar LacrosseClubLHS 20130424 Max Batali (20), Liberty freshman defender, and Wyatt Johnson (14), junior defender, go after the ball against Tahoma attacker Blake Lucky (left) and midfielder Dakoda Barger in a lacrosse match April 24 at Maywood Middle School.

By Greg Farrar
Max Batali (20), Liberty freshman defender, and Wyatt Johnson (14), junior defender, go after the ball against Tahoma attacker Blake Lucky (left) and midfielder Dakoda Barger in a lacrosse match April 24 at Maywood Middle School.

The Liberty Lacrosse Club has garnered enough interest to expand its program to include players younger than high school on the Eastside.

The expansion includes young players from the east side of Issaquah, Renton Highlands and Newcastle. Previously, young Eastside players have played in Issaquah Youth Lacrosse.

The club is part of the Greater Eastside Lacrosse League, which organizes and governs lacrosse on the Eastside from as far north as Woodinville and Bothell all the way down to Tahoma in Maple Valley.

“Every community on the Eastside has a program these days,” Brian Rinkenberger, youth director for the Liberty Club, said.

The Liberty Club started four years ago as a high school club, but this is the first year for a youth program.

“We got to the point where we had enough kids for the sport in our area, and enough parents who would be willing to take on a volunteer role and help us launch a youth program, so we have done it this spring,” he said. “For our youth program, we draw from the Liberty, and Hazen school communities and all the way into Newcastle, because Newcastle area does not have a club until you get down to Factoria.”

Nearly 100 players now

Rinkenberger said the program started as a Liberty High School club four years ago, and now has four teams and is pushing 100 players.

Janna Johnson, club president, said the high school club has grown so that it now has a JV club.

“Our club goes from fifth grade through high school,” Johnson said. “Next year, we hope to expand to what is called the Lightning League, which is younger kids, second- through fourth-graders.”

Lacrosse is not a sanctioned public school sport and operates through a club structure. When the practice season starts in March, finding practice space is a scramble, Johnson said.

“The tough part is getting fields that are lit as the season starts before Daylight Savings, and we compete with everyone else for practice space,” he said.

Originally an East Coast sport

When asked about the history of the sport, Rinkenberger and Johnson agreed it has its beginnings with American Indians. Rinkenberger said lacrosse has historically been an East Coast institution found in prep schools. He said as these prep-school kids graduated from college and came here seeking their fortunes, they brought the sport with them, and it is gaining momentum here.

“When I graduated from high school in Mercer Island in 1994, we had to travel far and wide to find teams to play,” he said. “Nowadays, every high school has a club affiliated with it.”

He said the thing that brings kids to the sport is that it is fun to play.

“We are not taking aim at any other sport, but if you ask a kid, ‘Do you want to go stand around on a baseball diamond for nine innings, or do you want to come out here where you are moving nonstop, and you have a stick in your hands, you get to throw, pass and run into other kids?’ most kids say, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” he said.

The honor of the game

“It is the fastest game on two feet, and it is the fastest growing sport in America,” Johnson said. “It is so fast paced, the kids have sticks and they wear pads, almost like football. It is an honorable sport, and one of the main things we talk about in lacrosse is the honor of the game. You honor the refs, you honor the players, you honor the other team.

“We try to keep it so that the fans, the players, everybody stays in control, and that really is what we are striving to do, so that there is not nastiness on the sidelines.

“We have field managers at every game, and they go around to spectators who are yelling at the players, coaches or refs and ask them to stop,” Johnson added. “If a spectator gets out of hand, it can cause their team to get a penalty, or the ref can ask the spectator to leave the game.”

For those not yet familiar with the sport, Rinkenberger said it is a contact sport played on a field about the size of a soccer field. It is similar to hockey in terms of the amount of contact allowed and the flow of play. There is a goal at each end of the field. The players have a stick with a net on the end. With this net, they catch and pass a ball to move it down the field.

“The first skill a player has to master is how to catch and throw the ball with the stick,” Rinkenberger said. The ball is about the size of a baseball only heavier and denser. “It is go, go, go all the time.”

“I had heard about lacrosse, but I had never seen a game,” Johnson said. Her son started with baseball, “but, then he played lacrosse, and we have never looked back at baseball, because it is so much fun.”


If you go

All teams of the Greater Eastside Lacrosse League will be playing May 4 at Liberth High School starting at 1 p.m.

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