Blake Shaffer, a White Creek Lutheran School eighth-grader, took a moment from his lacrosse practice at Donner Park on Tuesday to talk about the sport he loves.
“Give a boy a stick, pads and a ball, and how much more fun could you have?” Shaffer said.
The sentiment was shared by about 20 boys who were going through drills with the Columbus Lacrosse Club’s seventh/eighth-grade traveling team, which will play its first season in the Indiana Youth Lacrosse Association starting April 3.
Before this season, the local lacrosse club concentrated on “in-house” play to build interest and a program. With the launch of the seventh/eighth-grade traveling team, the hope is that a high school club team can be formed as the current boys in the program get older.
Andrew Jerman, a local industrial distributor whose son Whitman is a member of the seventh/eighth-grade team, got “about six or seven” kids together four years ago to start the program. Now the Columbus Lacrosse Club has about 40 kids from third through ninth grade who participate.
“All these kids have bought into the idea that they will play high school lacrosse,” Jerman said. “This travel team puts us on the map and reaffirms what I have been doing the last four years.”
Jerman said the club started because his brother, Bryan Jerman, gave Whitman a lacrosse stick when he was 6 years old. Whitman had no place to use it in Columbus.
“It’s not something that everyone does,” said Whitman Jerman, who is an eighth-grader at Northside. “I can say I play lacrosse.”
Shaffer played basketball at White Creek, but despite his longish-build, he said he doesn’t want to pursue basketball in high school. Lacrosse is his sport.
“Basketball is just not his love,” said his mom, Mary Shaffer. “He has found something to connect with, and he instantly loved lacrosse. It’s a great sport. There is plenty of exercise, and you are running constantly.”
For those unfamiliar with the sport, lacrosse has evolved from the game played by native Americans using a small rubber ball and a long-shafted stick with a “pocket.” Ten players try to advance the ball and score by throwing the ball into the opponent’s net, similar to soccer or ice hockey. Each team puts 10 players on the field.
Andrew Jerman has coached most of the players in the club, but has taken a step back this year after recruiting Blake Manuel, a teacher at Central Middle School, to coach the traveling team. Manuel, an Indiana University graduate from Zionsville, has lived in Columbus for a year.
Manuel played on the lacrosse club team at IU and played and coached youth lacrosse in Zionsville.
“Lacrosse is a mixture of a lot of different sports,” Manuel said. “It’s physical to a certain degree like football, and there is a lot of running like soccer.
“And there are different roles for all different sizes of players. You’ve got your big, strong enforcer and the small, quick guy who can squeeze past the big defenders. I would say that it’s most like hockey.”
Although the Columbus team will be in its first season, Manuel expects some success.
“From a competitive standpoint, we scheduled ‘B’ teams and new programs,” he said. “We’re not the only start-up program. But our focus will be on basics and fundamentals. We’re trying to build a program.”
Andrew Jerman looked out at the players practicing and noted that any seventh- or eighth-grader in the area can still try out for the team.
“Half or more of these kids have played three or four years, and they understand the concepts,” Andrew Jerman said. “But the other half have played two weeks. I think what we do see is that these kids can take direction.”
On the field, the players struggled to catch the ball in the “pocket,” and some had a hard time getting on speed on their throws.
“It’s about stick-eye coordination,” Andrew Jerman said. “It’s about being able to understand the concept of catching and throwing. It takes a certain technique.”
The Columbus Lacrosse Club will host a “Try Lacrosse” event from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 26 at the Central Middle School football field. The event will be moved into the gym in case of bad weather.
Students from third to 12th grades and their parents are encouraged to give the sport a try.
House League registration will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 2 at Central Middle School. The cost is $50 per season for the spring season. The House League season begins April 9. Students from third to 12th grade can participate. A house league high school team will be formed if there are enough participants.
Spots on the seventh/eighth-grade traveling team still are available.