Lacrosse makes mark as new sport in town

For eight years, Kim Smyth of Stettler used to drive her kids to Drumheller to play minor lacrosse.

Chase Rosland (12) of the Stettler Thunder midget lacrosse team defends in front of Stettler goaltender Brandon Kent during Saturday’s game against Lacoka (Lacombe and Ponoka) at Stettler Recreation Centre. The first-year organization hosted “Lacrosse Day in Stettler

For eight years, Kim Smyth of Stettler used to drive her kids to Drumheller to play minor lacrosse.

Now, however, four of them are part of the new Stettler Minor Lacrosse Association, which celebrated the inaugural “Lacrosse Day in Stettler” last Saturday at the Stettler Recreation Centre.

“We started spring camps last year, just to introduce (the sport to) kids and have them come out and try it,” Smyth said between games Saturday. “We ended up with about 65 kids that came out.

“This year, we now have 112 kids registered who signed up in February. We have a team in each division — midget, bantam, peewee, novice, tyke and mini-tyke.

“That Stettler had this many kids wanting to play, it was phenomenal. We weren’t sure it was going to go when we first started. We thought maybe we’d just do another spring camp, but we had all these kids come through the door, so it was amazing.”

The midgets are ages 14 and 15, while the mini-tykes are four and five.

Smyth, the association president and one of the midget coaches, has two sons with the midget team (Jordan and Cooper) and two with the peewee club (Derek and Noah).

“They love it,” she said.

“Eight years ago, we saw an ad in the newspaper and we said, ‘Let’s give this a try.’ So my two younger boys — the boys on the peewee team (now) — they’ve played since they were three. They were too young officially to play, but we put them on a team to make sure there was a team. And they’ve just played and played and played. We just love it. It’s fast.”

Lacrosse has made a breakthrough in Stettler, which is already a busy sports town, with the likes of baseball, softball, soccer, football and golf also on the spring calendar.

“The season is really short, so that helps,” said Smyth, a mother of six whose oldest son and daughter also played lacrosse.

“It’s nice for parents, because it’s played indoors, so we don’t have mosquitoes and we don’t have rain delays. We don’t have any of that stuff, because some of our springs have been crummy lately.

“And lacrosse is fast and furious. It’s probably the best workout. We’ve even had AA hockey players that have been on the (lacrosse) teams and say, ‘I don’t play this hard in hockey.’ It’s played on the same amount of surface as a hockey rink, but (the players are) running and you can’t coast. There’s no gliding on your skates in lacrosse. You’re running and running and running, so it’s a really great workout for them.”

The formative year for the Stettler association hasn’t been without its growing pains. When the Stettler midgets lost 9-1 to Lacoka (Lacombe and Ponoka) at home last Saturday afternoon, they were not only facing players from bigger centres, but also players with years of experience.

“When we started the association, we planned to have mini-tyke, tyke, novice and peewee (teams), and then we would just cap it,” Smyth said.

“But we included more teams, partly because of my own selfishness, because my older boys are playing bantam and midget and they’ve played for eight years out of Drumheller. So I was tired of driving.”

Smyth is a driving force in Stettler lacrosse, not only as the president but also as one of four midget coaches.

It was evident during Saturday’s game that she was enthusiastic behind the bench as she mentored the midgets on a sport that’s still new to many in the area.

“When we started the association, we had a big parent meeting, and we just said, ‘We’re not going to win any games, but we’re going to have the most fun of any of the other teams,’ ” she recalled. “So we wanted to promote having fun and learning the skills that you need for lacrosse, which is basically throwing and catching the ball. If you can catch the ball, then that’s probably 80 per cent of the game.”

Stettler’s relatively novice players are making gains and, in some cases, exceeding early expectations.

“Our peewee, novice and the tyke and mini-tyke teams have all won games. The peewees have won three or four games, so they’ve probably won a quarter to a third of their games, which is fantastic.”

Each team’s 12-game regular season is on the home stretch. League play wraps up this weekend, with the playoffs scheduled for the June 15-17 weekend in Red Deer. Stettler’s novice, peewee, bantam and midget teams are set to participate in those playoffs.

That same weekend, the tykes and mini-tykes plan to play in a season-ending tournament at Lacombe.

All of the Stettler teams benefit from a strong support group, Smyth said.

“We actually have full coaching staffs for all of our teams, which is fantastic, because sometimes you struggle to get coaches,” she said.

“Everybody that has kids playing is right on board. Like, the stands are full. It’s just been fantastic.”

The Recreation Centre was a busy place Saturday as the Stettler peewees, bantams and midgets each played league games, and the tykes (ages five to seven) hosted a tournament-style “festival.” Stettler’s novice team played a pair of weekend games.

JOHN MACNEIL, Independent editor

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