They’re no sticks in the mud

Girls youth lax is gaining ground, but there’s still a long ways to go

Megan Pope, 14, daughter of Matt and Tracy Pope, is one of 14 players on Durango’s U19 youth lacrosse team that will be heading to its first-ever Vail Shootout in early July. The tournament appearance represents the next step on a long local road for a growing but still rag-tag, girls lacrosse program. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Megan Pope, 14, daughter of Matt and Tracy Pope, is one of 14 players on Durango’s U19 youth lacrosse team that will be heading to its first-ever Vail Shootout in early July. The tournament appearance represents the next step on a long local road for a growing but still rag-tag, girls lacrosse program.

For the next month, the Durango girls lacrosse community will be using a variety of different sticks before it refamiliarizes itself with its favorite one.

With rakes, hoes, paintbrushes, brooms and more in hand, Kelsey MacDonald’s U19 all-Durango girls lacrosse team will be spending a handful of weeks helping Durangoans with their yard work, housework and baby-sitting needs to raise money for the fledgling program.

Then the girls will head to the team’s first-ever Vail Shootout in early July with lacrosse sticks in hand.

The trip has been a few years in the making, said MacDonald, who also is the Fort Lewis College head women’s lacrosse coach, and it represents the next step on a long road for a growing but still rag-tag girls lacrosse league in Durango that wants to add anyone who wants to learn America’s oldest game.

Durango Lacrosse

The Vail tournament will give girls from the Durango High School program and the youth girls Durango Lacrosse program one of their first opportunities to be scouted by the nation’s college lacrosse programs, which could start opening doors at the higher-education level.

That, MacDonald said, would a big step in the right direction for girls lacrosse in Durango.

“I’m just trying to get these girls the opportunity for lacrosse to affect their lives like it has for me because it’s such an awesome sport,” said MacDonald, who grew up on the East Coast.

For a couple of years now, MacDonald has organized a recreation league through Durango Parks and Recreation for girls interested in playing lacrosse. It operates under the umbrella of Durango Lacrosse, an organization founded by DHS boys lacrosse head coach John Robinette to provide youth- and high school-level lacrosse opportunities for Durango’s kids.

What started out as just clinics and practices led to the girls league’s first-ever game, this one against a Santa Fe, N.M., team, in early May because MacDonald finally had enough girls sign up to play – 14 to be exact, ranging in age from 7-year-old Pearl Burbey to eighth graders. And while putting together a bona fide team certainly is an accomplishment, MacDonald said it’s just the beginning.

“I’m really hoping – I don’t want to compare myself to (the Durango Youth Soccer Association) – but something similar to that,” MacDonald said about her long-term hopes.

DYSA, according to its website, has 14 girls teams with rosters between 14 and 18 players. And that’s just the girls soccer program.

MacDonald said she envisions a vibrant lacrosse club that leads Durango’s youngest girls to the high school level. There the club will continue to supplement the high school lacrosse season with offseason club practices, games and tournaments, such as the Vail Shootout.

Those types of events are crucial for girls looking to build a future with their lacrosse stick, who need to play in front of college scouts.

“In order to play in college, you need to be seen at the Vail Shootout or some tournaments in California or on the East Coast,” MacDonald said.

The idea, said Jenny Burbey – mother of Pearl Burbey and Siena Gumbiner, who played on the Demons’ first lacrosse team four years ago and since has committed to play at FLC – is to expand athletic opportunities for female players in Durango, providing extra options for girls who, such as her short-statured daughter, want to find the sport that’s best for them.

“It’s something that is different and new,” Burbey said. “If lacrosse is available, and there’s more choices, they’ll find something they can fit into – give them something to get outside and get sweaty because kids are happier when they’re sweaty and so are parents and so, then, is the community.”

Burbey said communities often offer plenty of those opportunities for boys – opportunities that frequently are well funded, help boys develop life skills and can open up good college opportunities.

The trick, she said, is opening those benefits up for the girls, too.

“That’s such a powerful thing to give any child but especially girls,” Burbey said.

‘The big obstacle’

Creating a solid lacrosse club for Durango’s girls would be a step toward that goal, but two main obstacles stand in the way: money and participation.

The first will start taking care of itself, MacDonald hopes, as word spreads here that girls lacrosse is an option.

“The big obstacle starting any kind of program is the initial start,” she said. “It’s getting the word out there and letting people know this is going on – if a girl wants to play a sport, knowing that lacrosse is an option.”

Right now the lacrosse league only has a spring season, but MacDonald said with enough girls she’s looking to expand to a fall season this year, which will run from September to October and feature another game against Santa Fe. She’s also hoping to work a few tournaments into the spring seasons if she gets enough player interest.

The fundraising comes next, and it starts with July’s Vail Shootout.

Although girls lacrosse costs less per head than boys lacrosse, each girl still needs equipment and money to pay for travel and registration fees.

The team’s current lawn/home/baby-sitting fundraiser asks Durango-area residents to sign up for yard work (four to five players to weed and tend a garden at $150 for two hours), housework (three to four players to help with spring cleaning at $100 for two hours) or babysitting (one to two players at $10 per hour).

Forms to sign up can be obtained through MacDonald at macdonald_k@fortlewis.edu.

The money raised will help the team cover its $1,500 registration fee, some lodging and travel costs “and everything else that is necessary for the care and feeding of girls who are going to play lacrosse three times a day,” as Burbey put it.

MacDonald said she has some girls that can’t afford the cost.

Zia Taqueria owner Tim Turner, who will be playing in the Men’s Supermaster division at the Vail Shootout, also is helping the team purchase new uniforms for the Shootout; for the Santa Fe game, the girls made tie-dyed shirts to double as uniforms.

Finding your stick; finding your personality

Beyond the Vail tournament, though, MacDonald said her budding league is looking a for a supply of practice rental equipment.

The coach said she’s had her college players donate their old sticks to the program, so she’s got about 15 right now for players who don’t have their own, which run between $40 and $50 for a beginner’s stick, although more advanced sticks run upward of $200.

“That’s one thing that’s great about lacrosse is, first of all it’s a new sport, it’s not your traditional sport, and it gives the girls the opportunity ... to have a stick, and that stick is your personality,” MacDonald said. “No two sticks are the same, and it’s kind of cool that way. You can do so much with that stick. You can add your own personality to your style of play.”

The club also needs goggles. Right now, MacDonald said her team has been using goggles issued to the FLC team, but those won’t be available in the fall or possibly even next spring. Goggles run between $30 and $40.

Registration for the league should cost about $100 per girl on top of equipment costs, but MacDonald said she’s hoping to be able to rent out sticks and goggles to new players for about $15.

Although the current fundraiser will help cover the Vail Shootout costs, MacDonald said donations from individuals or local businesses would go a long way to putting lacrosse – and the girls who want to play it – on the right track.

“It’s a holistic experience,” Burbey said. “And it gives you tools you can use for the rest of your life, and that’s neat.”

jsojourner@durangoherald.com

“I’m just trying to get these girls the opportunity for lacrosse to affect their lives like it has for me because it’s such an awesome sport,” said Kelsey MacDonald, Durango Youth Lacrosse founder and Fort Lewis College women’s lacrosse head coach. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

“I’m just trying to get these girls the opportunity for lacrosse to affect their lives like it has for me because it’s such an awesome sport,” said Kelsey MacDonald, Durango Youth Lacrosse founder and Fort Lewis College women’s lacrosse head coach.

Alyssa Montoya, 17, daughter of Richard and Victoria Montoya, is looking forward to Vail in July for the fledgling Durango Lacrosse youth girls U19 team’s inaugural tournament, the Vail Shootout. “In order to play in college, you need to be seen at the Vail Shootout or some tournaments in California or on the East Coast,” coach Kelsey MacDonald said. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Alyssa Montoya, 17, daughter of Richard and Victoria Montoya, is looking forward to Vail in July for the fledgling Durango Lacrosse youth girls U19 team’s inaugural tournament, the Vail Shootout. “In order to play in college, you need to be seen at the Vail Shootout or some tournaments in California or on the East Coast,” coach Kelsey MacDonald said.