WEST PITTSTON — Little by little, the girls start to trickle in.
The once-silent West Pittston Little League indoor practice facility quickly fills with activity. The grade-school girls, though, aren’t there to learn about softball. On this late weekday afternoon, lacrosse is the game of choice.
The Valley Laxerz are a fledgling youth lacrosse organization that hopes to build and grow the sport in the area. The group is doing so by giving boys and girls a chance to try the sport before making a commitment.
Rob Switzer and Carl DeLuca run the Laxerz. The practices at the Little League — one for girls grades 2-6 and another for boys ages 6-15 — were a starting point for children new to the sport and those familiar with it.
“We’re the two that started this whole thing,” Switzer said. “Jake and Dominic, our two sons, were playing up in Back Mountain about five years ago. Then we ended up going to Scranton. Back Mountain was getting so many kids and we knew in three years these guys would be playing for Wyoming Area.”
Wyoming Area didn’t have a boys team at the time. The school played its first varsity game last year. But other Wyoming Valley Conference teams had already started lacrosse, a sport that has grown tremendously since 2004.
According to an April 2015 story on uslacrosse.org, the National Federation of State High School Associations statistics show there have been 551 new boys programs and 556 new girls programs started at the high school level from 2004-2014.
“Both of us said, ‘We have to get something going here,’” Switzer said.
So three years ago, the Valley Laxerz were born by two guys who never played the sport. The first year the Laxerz had just two teams — U15 and U13 boys — which consisted of 35-40 players from throughout the area.
“We had kids from up and down Wyoming Avenue,” DeLuca said. “We had kids from Coughlin, from Pittston Area.”
The organization expanded with grade-school girls team in its second season and will have three boys teams and two girls teams this year.
“The girls are starting to expand because of Wyoming Area and Pittston Area having teams,” said DeLuca, who coaches the Wyoming Area girls team. “Coughlin has a team. They only other place they can go is either all the way to Back Mountain or to Scranton.”
The Laxerz aren’t confined to boundaries. They even had a brother and sister from Berwick show up to get a taste of lacrosse. They, like most who give it a try, remain with the program.
“The first week, we had 12 girls,” DeLuca said. “Then we went to 15-18 girls. Last week, we had 26 girls and we’re expecting the same or more. We’re telling them, ‘If you like it, bring a friend.’ That’s how this has been expanding.”
No need to bring equipment initially because it’s provided — stick and goggles for the girls, stick and helmets for the boys.
“It’s almost like come and try it, no obligation,” Switzer said.
Once a player commits to playing for the Laxerz, the registration fee ranges from $125 to $150 depending on age group. The fee includes 1-2 practices per week, 10-12 games, two tournaments and a game jersey.
Home games are played at Frank Slaper Park at the end of Stites Street in West Wyoming. The Laxerz are a recreational program so the longest trips to road games are to Scranton and Tunkhannock.
Players are required to purchase their own equipment if they decide to join. For girls, equipment costs between $125 to $150. For boys, it’s roughly $300 to $400 for a helmet and specialized pads because unlike the girls game, contact is permitted.
Volunteers are also needed to help coach at any level. Previous playing experience isn’t a prerequisite because neither DeLuca nor Switzer played lacrosse.
“There’s a lot of online training. That’s how I learned the girls game,” DeLuca said.
“It’s new to everybody,” Switzer said. “Everybody around here is new to it.”
The next step is to get more newbies.
“The majority of the kids who try it like it,” Switzer said. “There’s a lot of action.
“Ten kids play at a time, nine field players and a goalie. So there’s always 10 players on the field and that’s why we need more kids. We go with a roster of 20-25 kids and everybody plays.”