USL’s First Stick Program Has ‘Transformative’ Impact in Maine


This article appears in the Northeast version of the November edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

In some places, youth and high school girls’ lacrosse plays catch-up to the boys’ game, which may be more entrenched and established within a community. 

That’s not the case in Waterboro, Maine.

The girls’ lacrosse program at Waterboro’s Massabesic High School, serving students in the RSU 57 school district, is an annual contender for championships. Supported by a strong youth feeder program, the Mustangs have won two state titles and have two runner-up finishes in the past six years alone. The team’s games draw big crowds, and generate great support and enthusiasm in the community.

Meanwhile, the fledging Massabesic boys’ team has had its struggles, including a winless campaign as recently as 2015. When Steve Gallo took over as head coach in 2016, he understood that one of the catalysts that would help fuel a turnaround was the creation of a youth program. It might not pay immediate dividends for the high school team, but it would help support the program’s long-term sustainability.

“We knew we needed a feeder program, but it’s expensive to start up,” he said.

Some online research put the US Lacrosse First Stick Program on Gallo’s radar. Grants provided by the national governing body would provide the needed equipment and resources to help start a new youth program. 

Working with Todd Smith, manager of Waterboro Recreation, Gallo coordinated the application and received a First Stick grant from US Lacrosse in 2017. 

“It was a perfect fit,” Gallo said. “We had instant credibility with parents because kids didn’t have to rely on used, non-certified equipment to try the game. The safety issue was immediately taken care of.”

Gallo recruited an experienced youth coach in Perley Densmore, who brought on qualified assistants, and established both a 5/6-grade and 3/4-grade team in 2017. Both squads, dubbed the Junior Mustangs, joined Maine Youth Lacrosse.

“It was amazing how quickly everything fell into place,” Gallo said. “We had good coaches and a well-funded program. We had lined fields for every game and two officials. It seemed to happen overnight. It was really cool for the kids and the parents were blown away.”

After starting with two teams and 28 kids that first season, the Junior Mustangs added a third team to their lineup in 2018 and accommodated 45 players. 

“This is something that is really growing, and I don’t see it stopping,” Smith said. “Some of the other sports we offer are declining in numbers, but lacrosse is one of our strongest programs.”

Gallo estimates that about 90 percent of the youth players are new to lacrosse.

“Many of these kids would never have tried lacrosse if we hadn’t been able to provide the equipment for them,” he said. “The reality is that many of the families in our district would simply not have been able to afford lacrosse.”

Gallo tries to cultivate a bond between his high school Mustangs and the Junior Mustangs. In addition to hosting camps and clinics for younger players, he encourages his Massabesic players to serve as guest coaches to support the Junior Mustangs.

The relationship between the older and younger players is having a residual impact on the high school boys’ team. Community interest in the sport has visibly increased. The influence is growing.

For the first time in nearly 10 years, Massabesic has enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons. 

“First Stick has been a huge part of all of this,” Gallo said. “It’s been transformative for us.” USL







Locally Grown

Upstate New York

Lionel Brown, Jake Coon, Tom Donahue, Leo Nolan, Mike Powell, Kevin Sheehan, Chuck Wilbur and the 1995-97 CNS women’s team were inducted into the US Lacrosse chapter’s Hall of Fame on Oct. 21. A special service award was presented to Brent Riley.

Connecticut

The US Lacrosse chapter’s Hall of Fame induction will be Nov. 17, with Tom Arrix, Rich Heritage, Rich Pulisciano, Allen Reed, Jack Reed, Al Tortorella, the 1990 and 2018 Yale men’s lacrosse teams and the 2018 Wesleyan men’s lacrosse teams set to be enshrined.

Maine

On June 23, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik hosted a lacrosse festival and brought the Creator’s Game back to the Wabanaki Territory. The day included afternoon instruction, games and cultural teachings about the sport’s native roots.

Greater Rochester

A new chapter Hall of Fame class will be inducted Nov. 2. This year’s honorees are Dick Baran, Andrew Copelan, Terry Cotton, Ed Mulheron, Danielle Spencer, the 2004 Penn Yan girls’ team and the 2009 Canandaigua boys’ team.

Eastern Massachusetts

On June 28, the Eastern Mass chapter of US Lacrosse inducted in eight new members into its Hall of Fame, all of whom were honored at halftime of the MLL All-Star Game at Harvard Stadium.

Greater Rochester

More than 70 kids participated in a free youth clinic before the Senior All-Star Games at Victor High School. Each participant received a pinnie and a bracelet.

Western New York

WNY Lacrosse Foundation founder Chris Mathias was recognized as a “City Shaper” by WGRZ, the local NBC affiliate, for his efforts to make the sport more accessible.

Picture This
Capital Gains

The lacrosse program at Capital Prep in Hartford, Conn., is thriving in its fourth year, with more than 100 students at the K-12 magnet school participating on five teams in 2018. Capital Prep is comprised entirely of students who receive free or reduced lunch and who come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

My USL Rep
Ryan Larkum, Northeast

Larkum is from West Hartford, Conn. He played lacrosse at Conard High School and then one season at Springfield College. While working for New Britain Parks and Recreation, he coached at Farmington (Conn.) High School. He joined US Lacrosse in 2014 and is the junior varsity coach at his alma mater Conard.

How can US Lacrosse help grow the sport in your area? Contact Ryan at rlarkum@uslacrosse.org or 410-235-6882, extension 188.

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