H

istorians believe Harford Road originated as a Native American hunting trail. It’s no wonder, then, that this little slice of central Maryland, an 18-mile highway that curves alongside streams feeding into the Chesapeake Bay, would become the epicenter of a lacrosse movement.

"> How the Adaptive Lacrosse Movement Has Increased Access to the Sport | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKVILLE ADAPTIVE LACROSSE

Olivia Noyle, an 18-year-old with autism, started playing lacrosse six years ago. Now she helps run Parkville (Md.) Adaptive Lacrosse practices.

How the Adaptive Lacrosse Movement Has Increased Access to the Sport


H

istorians believe Harford Road originated as a Native American hunting trail. It’s no wonder, then, that this little slice of central Maryland, an 18-mile highway that curves alongside streams feeding into the Chesapeake Bay, would become the epicenter of a lacrosse movement.

Eight years ago, Marty Delaney of Parkville, Md., wanted to spread the word about Parkville Adaptive Lacrosse, which since 2001 had provided developmentally challenged athletes an opportunity to experience the sport in a safe, fun and nurturing environment. He contacted Carol Donovan, the owner of Low Pro Graphics, a custom print shop located on a quaint stretch of Harford Road, to order t-shirts for the 2011 US Lacrosse Convention in Baltimore.

“Don’t you want something on the back?” Donovan asked Delaney.

Delaney thought about it briefly and responded, “Lacrosse is for everyone.”

It was the perfect mantra.

Adaptive lacrosse is a fully inclusive, modified version of the sport designed to fit the needs of athletes with physical or intellectual impairments. The game offers the opportunity for a wide spectrum of players to fall in love with it.

“When I actually articulated and heard it come out of my mouth, it felt like an epiphany,” said Delaney, whose son, Patrick, is autistic. “This is what I’d like to spread throughout the lacrosse community.”

The Parkville program has recently gone viral with videos of its players using an automated stick that attaches to a wheelchair and uses a catapult mechanism controlled by a button. Around the country, other organizations are catching on.

The adaptive lacrosse movement has spread from the Mid-Atlantic to the Northeast, with growing interest in the Midwest. Delaney holds conference calls to jumpstart new programs across the country. US Lacrosse supports these groups by providing guidelines, seminars and mentorship. 

“We want to make sure no one is left behind,” said Eboni Preston-Laurent, senior manager of diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse.


“She could be running a 103 fever with the flu, and she’d be out there.” — Scott Noyle, Olivia’s father


Finding Her Voice

Olivia Noyle, an 18-year-old with autism, started playing lacrosse six years ago. Now she helps run Parkville practices.

“If I’m short on coaches, she will just start pushing a wheelchair,” Delaney said. “She loves to play.”

Noyle uses her voice to draw attention to herself and her non-verbal teammates. She wears a hockey helmet because it fits more easily over her hearing aids.

“When it gets hot or when she’s physically challenged and she gets fatigued, a whole new personality comes out,” said Scott Noyle, Olivia’s father.

Olivia Noyle is quick with a quip, drawing inspiration from the high school and college teams who volunteer to help run drills and simulated games.

“She could be running a 103 fever with the flu, and she’d be out there,” said Scott Noyle, who marveled at the athletes’ patience in developing new motor skills. “It may take forever for them to turn the right way to do the roll dodge, but it’s their ability to stay persistent when most people would say give up.”








Anything You Can Do

Brendan Biancucci, of Cape Ann, Mass., comes from a lacrosse family. His sister competed in the local rec league for more than a decade and now plays in college. His cousins also play.

And even though Biancucci has epilepsy, his disability does not preclude him from participating in the stick-and-ball sport. He plays for Cape Ann Youth Lacrosse’s adaptive program, which started six years ago.

“He could do what the people he looked up to in the world do,” said Gail Biancucci, his mother. 

Biancucci, 21, continues to wow his doctors with the hand-eye coordination he has developed to catch and throw a lacrosse ball. Even though he’s on medication to help stave off seizures, a major brain surgery left him with weakness on the right side of his body.

“We feel like we hit the lottery,” Gail Biancucci said. “This organization goes above and beyond for these kids. We have a daughter in lacrosse. We know how much it costs. It’s been overwhelming what they’ve done.”

Lacrosse also gives Biancucci an opportunity to lead others and converse with them about a shared passion — no small achievements given his intellectual immaturity.

“He’s physically pretty big and he sports a goatee, so the younger kids look up to him,” Gail Biancucci said. “He’s never had that role before. He’s always been the one to look up to other people.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPE ANN YOUTH LACROSSE

Brendan Biancucci, a 21-year-old with epilepsy, has impressed his doctors with the hand-eye coordination he has developed as a result of playing lacrosse in Cape Ann, Mass.


Can’t Miss

A similar picture is developing in Lewes, Del. — a community rich in educational opportunities for students with special needs. A new program, Atlantic Adaptive Lacrosse, in its second year, resides in the heart of the Cape Henlopen School District, which draws families from all along the East Coast to attend the mainstream parallel programs and the Lewes Consortium. Registration, equipment and field space are free.

Sara and Anne Marie Perotta, 15-year-old twin sisters with cerebral palsy, experience the sport, and life, in different ways. The more independent Sara walks on her own, but shies away from attention. Anne Marie smiles brightly from her wheelchair, content with being different than everyone else.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LYN SHOOP

Sara (left) and Anne Marie Perotta, 15-year-old twin sisters with cerebral palsy, compete for Atlantic Adaptive Lacrosse in Lewes, Del. Sara attended US Lacrosse’s Adaptive Lacrosse Day in September 2017.

In September 2017, Sara Perotta surprised her parents when she pleaded them to allow her to travel to Sparks, Md., along with Atlantic Adaptive founder Lyn Shoop, for an adaptive lacrosse play day organized by US Lacrosse.

Bridgette Perotta, the twins’ mother, worried about one of them traveling independently — until her phone started buzzing with pictures.

“Lax has made my life more fun by meeting new people and being able to participate in a sport with typical peers,” Sara Perotta said. 

US Lacrosse’s Adaptive Lacrosse Day included a free seminar for program leaders and a dinner for participants. The national governing body hopes to put on similar events in the future. No matter when or where, Sara Perotta will be there.

“If there’s any of these going on, she’ll be a part of it,” Bridgette Perotta said.