In the small and intimate setting of the youth lacrosse camp, the boys, ages 7 to 15, were firing passes left and right to reach each other without hesitation on the turf field at North Reading High Monday morning. All young players enjoy the thrill of seeing the ball fly from their sticks.
But according to Stephen Harvey, camp director for Prime Time Lax, it is essential that each player begin the camp by learning the basics first.
And Monday was day one of the one-week session in North Reading, which also puts on camps in Amesbury, Beverly, Hamilton-Wenham, Haverhill, Rowley, and Saugus. The fee is $125 per camper.
“We’re going to start off with the basics that you have to know to get better,” Harvey said. “As the week goes on, we’ll infuse other concepts [and] other ideas. Shooting, defense, and dodging.”
Initially, the focus was on catching, throwing, and handling the stick: Teach the youngsters new skills, and try to grow the sport in the area.
“It’s a [great] way to develop your skills,” he said of this week’s summer camp. “As soon as you introduce lacrosse to a new area, it starts to explode.”
Tyler Low and Jason Wellemeyer, former teammates at Babson College, founded Prime Time in 2007 when they started a pickup league in Natick for kids.
“There really wasn’t a whole lot for local kids in our area to play in the summer,” Low said of starting Prime Time Lax. “The following summer while we were still in college, we ran overnight camps at Babson College.
“We’ve been doing it ever since.”
Low, the head coach of the men’s program at the University of Massachusetts Boston (Wellemeyer is the associate head coach), said that roughly 1,000 kids have participated in Prime Tax Lax camps and clinics this summer.
“The goal for us is really getting people exposed and excited about lacrosse,” said Low, “Encouraging that love for the game. In my opinion [lacrosse] is the best game in the world.”
And the game’s presence continues to grow.
“Even since we first started back in 2007, the growth has been unbelievable,” Low said. “Now we see high school and town programs popping up in new places every single year.”
One new program, the New England Twisters, was formed by Steve Moreland, the head coach at Phillips Academy in Andover the past three years.
He believed it was necessary to create a club in the area that taught the fundamentals and worked on skill development, for both boys and girls.
“My interest is teaching the kids how to play the game,” he said. “I think we use a lot of creative ways to teach and keep it fun.”
The Twisters, based in Wilmington, had over 70 players for both the boys’ and girls’ teams this summer. Moreland said he expects that number to double next year.
“The reception has been tremendous,” he said. The towns in the area “have been extremely supportive both on the boys’ side and girls’ side. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
With the intention of helping girls develop their lacrosse skills and attract the attention of college program, Lukas Cash founded Revolution Lacrosse 12 years ago.
Revolution Lacrosse runs programs for girls in grades 1-12, with showcases, camps, clinics, and tournament teams that cater to players at all levels.
“If you’re a lacrosse player, we have something for everyone,” he said. Since its inception, Revolution has placed over 400 athletes onto college rosters.
Midfielder Taylor Meek, a recent Manchester-Essex Regional High grad who will play at Tufts, has been with Revolution for five years.
She has spent the summer working out and preparing for playing at the collegiate level.
“Throughout the summer I would go on runs to stay in shape,” she said.
“I have my [lacrosse] stick with me all the time. If I have a friend and I go to the beach, I play on the beach.”
Meeks will not speculate how much of an impact she will make as a freshman, but her time with Revolution has taught her the importance of hard work.
“You aren’t given anything. You have to work for everything,” she said. “If I put my whole heart into it, I could get playing time. I’m honestly excited to work hard.”
Michelle Poirier, a rising junior at North Andover High who has verbally committed to attend Johns Hopkins, is in her third year with the program.
Although she has already made her college decision, Poirier said she still had many improvements to make this summer.
“I really wanted to work on just being a leader now and getting my teammates to really shine through,” she said. “I also wanted to work on little things like shot placement and really getting my dodges down.”
The 5-foot-3 attack said she wants to make the biggest presence when she has the ball in her stick.
“I’m not the [biggest] player on the field,” she said. “But I definitely want to play like the biggest.”
Looking back on their youth careers, both players agree with the coaches: The game of lacrosse has grown dramatically.
“At my high school when I was in seventh grade, there was no [junior varsity] team,” Meek said of Manchester Essex. “By the time I was a senior, we had 30 girls try out for the B [junior varsity] team so we had to cut kids.”
Poirier added, “It has definitely escalated really fast.”
Tucker Sampson, an assistant with the Twisters, added “I really think the sky is the limit.”