A group of athletes and coaches gathered at George Grace Field on July 13 in hopes of spreading their love of lacrosse to potential recruits.
The Buffalo Lacrosse Club, the young team that hosted the clinic for boys and girls ages 6 to 18, brought all the equipment a beginner might need, namely lacrosse sticks and balls. Jeff Shelley, whom most athletes and other coaches refer to as the man who got them involved in the game for the last five years, bought these and the padding – the equipment needed to play the sport competitively – to make the to reduce the financial burden on children who want to play.
It all started when Shelley’s son Mason said he was interested in acting. Shelley bought two lacrosse sticks; Mason took one and his friend Carter Zink took the other.
“We ended up passing (the ball) with each other and it became a summer thing where we came here and threw the ball around a little bit and started doing drills and growing in our skills from there,” Zink said.
What is now on track to become a 501(c)3 began as 10 boys traveling to Sheridan each day to play for Sheridan’s Lacrosse Club. The daily commute to and from the field was tiring, so the parents decided to start a local team.
The club is currently working with USA Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body, to recruit more players and teams across Wyoming.
Lacrosse is beginning to gain traction in the Mountain West, although it has been a popular sport on the East Coast for nearly a century. Billings, Rapid City, Cheyenne and Cody are among the few cities that have programs.
For the uninitiated, lacrosse is ancient as a sport – lacrosse was invented in the 17th century by Native American tribes based in the Northeast and Plains states of present-day Canada and the United States. But the sport looks like a cross between basketball, soccer and hockey. Lacrosse is most similar to basketball in terms of strategy and gameplay. It’s like hockey with protective gear and lots of physical contact. The playing field is like a soccer field, only the goal is smaller.
Shelley said he decided to start the club with help from HB Puckett, who is helping support the Buffalo clinics this summer.
Puckett retired to Buffalo six years ago. Before that, he lived in Huntsville, Alabama, where he coached youth and high school lacrosse teams.
Puckett’s involvement with lacrosse began in college when he learned about the sport from his roommate, an All-State defense attorney from New Jersey. He was able to play competitively when he joined the US Navy and has been at it ever since.
“The kids love it,” Puckett said. “We try to attract multi-sport athletes. Many of the college lacrosse coaches want to recruit multisport athletes. We feel like we have something to give to the sports community. It’s a great sport.”
At Wednesday’s clinic, coaches and veteran lacrosse players showed newbies the basics. Zink said the first thing lacrosse players should learn is to cradle the ball, which means keeping the ball moving as it runs into the net to make sure it doesn’t fall out. From there it’s all about passing and ball control.
Zink, a former soccer, basketball and track and field athlete, said lacrosse is an easy game to learn.
“Once you get those basics down, it’s just kind of a repetition,” he said.
For both Zink and Jayson Whipple, the club’s goalie, lacrosse is fun because it’s physical – there’s a lot of contact and control in the boys’ game – and it requires a lot of teamwork.
“It takes one mistake for the whole game to turn. Every single pass, every single throw has to be perfect, otherwise it’ll be turned over, go wide or there’ll be a penalty,” Whipple said.
Another selling point of the game for Don Whipple, Jayson’s father and club president, is the many opportunities to play in college and earn a scholarship. Jayson is only a budding sophomore, but he’s heard from college coaches in Montana who are interested in eventually recruiting him for their programs.
“It’s just a good opportunity for kids if they want to move on (to play sports in college) – way better than playing football or anything else,” Don Whipple said.
And the possibilities are only increasing. The International Olympic Committee fully recognized the sport in 2021, paving the way for its potential inclusion in the 2028 Summer Olympics.
On a smaller scale, these local advocacy groups said they hope lacrosse can be sanctioned by the Wyoming High School Activities Association. For now, however, high schoolers will compete for and play against club teams across the region.
The club is working to include other nearby cities in lacrosse to increase the number of Wyoming-based teams for Buffalo to compete with. One challenge, Shelley said, is finding a sufficient number of lacrosse officials.
Above all, however, the club hopes to attract children of all ages to learn the game. On July 25, the club hosts a clinic with the Boys & Girls Club. Through grants from USA Lacrosse, Shelley said he hopes to make soft-stick lacrosse sets available for use in Johnson County School District No. to get 1 And the club will host another clinic from 9am to 12pm. on Saturday, July 23 at George Grace Field.
“Even if you’ve never heard of it, give it a try,” said Jayson Whipple. “Come out, go onto the field, throw the ball around.”