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Local man jump starts lacrosse

LEWISTOWN — It started as a simple invitation to play the club sport while attending Lock Haven University.

He had no prior experience but gave it a shot and Zachary Smith instantly fell in love with lacrosse.

That passion never died when he was done with schooling and upon returning to Mifflin County. Instead, he wanted to give boys at the high school another opportunity to play a sport in the spring season.

“I wanted to give kids another choice of sport because it’s basically baseball or track right now,” Smith said. “I know when I was in high school, I never really had an interest in baseball and went out for track just so I was in shape for football the following year.”

In a sport that has aspects of football, soccer, basketball and hockey, lacrosse would be a different change of scenery locally. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work.

The club had only Bellefonte willing to play them last year — mostly due to a late start on things at Mifflin County, but also because the team is not playing as a varsity (PIAA) team.

Smith has seen an increase in interest locally, getting 25 players — a 15-person increase from last season — to come out for the team this year and wants to give them a chance to play more than once due to all the time they are willing to put aside for the sport.

“There’s a gentleman down in Danville that’s been kind of heading everything,” Smith said. “He gets in contact with referees, other teams and coaches and schedules all the games, but when I spoke to Bellefonte, they said I was really behind as far as scheduling goes.”

Smith says there are options for the team to play games — registered as scrimmages for PIAA-affiliated squads — against nearby schools. It’s something he hopes works out for the seniors and returning players.

Smith has also opened discussions with Mid-Penn Conference schools. Most of the schools Mifflin County plays in other sports have boys and girls lacrosse. But in this part of the state, it remains a nascient sport with just two District 6 schools (Bellefonte and State College) and four in District 4 (five for girls) sponsoring varsity lacrosse.

“They’ve really toughened it out the last year or so,” he said. “I know they put so much heart and effort into it last year and I really don’t want them to leave them playing just one game again. I really want to do it for the players who have stuck it out for the team.”

Though it’s not funded by the school district, Smith said the team has gotten help from the school in terms of practice fields and advertising it to students, along with help from elsewhere.

“Our stipulation was we can have lacrosse but it came at no cost to the school itself so everything has to be funded by us,” Smith said. “We have a booster club and they’re task is to make sure everything is funded so that way we can travel and buy the things needed.

“The athletic director (Tish McClay) has been helping me immensely with what fields and times are available. She’s really been helpful and got me practice times five days a week down at East Derry Elementary which to us is great because it’s all fenced in.”

Smith has lived up to the deal and reached out to the U.S. Lacrosse Foundation, which, after a lengthy process and a large amount of paperwork, donated 20 full sets of gear to the team worth $10,500.

“Lacrosse is an expensive sport. Helmets themselves can run upwards to $200,” Smith said. “I don’t know many parents that are just going to shell out that kind of money for one piece of equipment. That was another obstacle in all of this.”

The process to field a team has come a long way in both interest and the ability to do so. Smith says a number of people have told him that the conversation has sparked interest in girls wondering why they don’t have a girls lacrosse team at the school either.

Smith though says it’s one step at a time, and he’s not looking too far ahead of himself.

“My goal is to just get my foot in the door,” Smith says. “I wanted lacrosse to come to Mifflin County. If it grows into something and turns into a team, I have no problem helping out even being the coach if that’s what it needs to be or even being an assistant or volunteer, whatever.

“I just love the sport and want to see this take off and continue within Mifflin County.”

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