Lisa Collee wanted to see more young girls playing the sport she loves.
As a lifelong lacrosse player and long-time coach of the K-W United under-19 girls field lacrosse team, she has seen countless girls and young women thrive playing the sport. However, the youngest program the Kitchener-Waterloo Minor Lacrosse Association (KWMLA) had to offer was an under-11 team. And by that age, most kids had already found their sports.
"So many times I heard parents say, 'I wanted my daughter to play lacrosse, but we started in soccer and she made some good friends there, so we just stuck with it,'" said Collee. "By the time the girls were old enough to compete in the U11 program, they were reluctant to switch sports."
And so, the Little Laxers were born.
Formed last summer out of Collee's idea, the KWMLA's Little Laxers program gives girls as young as three an introduction to field lacrosse. Every Thursday night since May 5, the field at MacGregor Senior Public School in Waterloo has been taken over by pint-sized lacrosse players.
Over the course of the program, the girls have learned the essential skills of field lacrosse through games, scrimmages and tips from current and former players.
"We aren't stressing competition in the Little Laxers program," said Collee. "It's all about having fun, being active and creating friendships. The goal is for these girls to associate the lacrosse field with great memories that make them want to come back. And, obviously, we hope they pick up a few basic skills along the way."
Last summer, the Little Laxers saw just under 20 girls register. This year the program ballooned to 40, and after a bring-your-friends night early in May, that number increased to 50 young girls involved in the program.
"Lisa got everything going and things just took off from there," said Ken Lubert, the girls field lacrosse rep on the KWMLA board of directors. "We've almost tripled in size in just one year and we're really hoping to keep that going."
Age-wise, the Little Laxers range from three to eight. With the increase in enrolment for the program's second season, the players are now divided into two groups: one of six-, seven- and eight-year-olds, and another of three-, four- and five-year-olds.
The older group is run by volunteers from the K-W United under-15 and under-13 teams, who spend a half-hour working on skills each week before organizing a scrimmage. Meanwhile, Jade MacPherson, a former K-W United player currently in school to be a teacher, and a group of volunteer players take on the younger kids, teaching lacrosse basics.
"They're very quick learners," said MacPherson when asked how she teaches the game to kids as young as three. "But I just like that they come out every week and they're super excited. They really love it."
After running the Little Laxers herself last year, Collee, well into her third trimester of pregnancy when this year's program began, handed the reigns to MacPherson, who assisted last summer — though even at almost nine months pregnant, Lubert says Collee has still helped out.
Between Collee, MacPherson and the volunteer players, the program is completely female-run. (Lubert says he helps coordinate things, "But mostly, I give out freezies.")
"I think that's huge," said MacPherson of having female role models for the young girls. "Lisa's definitely my role model as a teacher and as a coach. I know a lot of the volunteers have really become role models for the younger girls and I think that's a big part of what keeps them coming back."
As one of North America's fastest growing sports, field lacrosse can provide a wealth of opportunities for young women when it comes to post-secondary scholarships. Collee cites local examples like former K-W United players Emily Gillingham and Molly Beckham, who currently play south of the border at Towson University and Lindenwood University, respectively.
Lubert meanwhile, has seen lacrosse help his two daughters pursue university education, with his older daughter Jessica a team captain at Wilfrid Laurier University and his younger daughter Jocelyn playing at St. Mary's College of California.
With those opportunities out there, Collee saw how beneficial it could be for young girls to get involved with the sport early.
"Many of the best players we've had come through our U19 program started playing box (indoor) lacrosse with boys at a young age," she said. "This early exposure definitely gave them a big advantage. Some parents are hesitant to let their daughters play full contact sports with boys, however, or some girls get put off by the physical aspect of box.
"So I figured if we could start girls playing field lacrosse young and keep them in the program as they grow, we would not only be more competitive at the U15 and U19 levels, but also be able to offer more opportunities to players."
Special to The Record