Aspiring youth lacrosse players throughout the area will soon have the chance to return to the field and safely work toward their respective goals in the game.
The Unity Lacrosse Club will kick off its Summer Skills Session for players entering grades 1-12 next Tuesday at the Watertown Fire Department Athletic Fields. The club is also joining with Carthage native and 2006 Immaculate Heart Central graduate, Mike Lazore, to provide private and small-group lessons from the recently retired Major League Lacrosse player of eight seasons.
Unity Lacrosse, which is in its fourth year of existence and is open to players from any school district seeking year-round playing opportunities, is eager to conduct its first event of any kind since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lacrosse has been completely ripped away from us because of COVID, so how excited am I? I can’t even put it into words,” said Tonino Alteri, the IHC boys varsity coach who will guide players from first through fourth grade at the upcoming skills clinic.
“I’m more excited for the kids, because now they’re finally going to have an opportunity to go out and play lacrosse and to do it safely,” Alteri added.
The total of eight skills sessions will be held every Tuesday and Thursday for players entering grades 5-12, running from next week through Sept. 10. For players entering grades 1-4, instruction will be held for each of the next four Thursdays.
The cost is $60 for players in 5th-grade and older, and $30 for the younger age group, with sibling discounts at each level. Registration is limited to the first 10 players per graduation class and spots were still available at unitylacrosseclub.com as of Thursday night. Past affiliation with the club is not required.
“Instruction will be designed to improve each player’s skill development,” Lazore said. “The goal of each session is to get each player as many shots, passes, catches, and ground balls as possible for the older kids, and to be an introduction to lacrosse for the younger age groups.”
The Fairgrounds YMCA was forced to close along with other gyms in the state due to COVID-19 the day prior to the scheduled try-outs for the Unity Lacrosse modified travel team.
Since that time, club administrators Michael Ledoux, Dave Hopkins and Jonathan Adams have diligently monitored the situation and explored a multitude of options for their regular summer travel program before ultimately being forced to suspend plans due to state restrictions resulting from COVID-19.
The club has since developed a COVID-19 safety operating plan under state guidance issued in July for no/low contact lacrosse training. The full plan can be viewed along with a link to the state guidelines on unitylacrosseclub.com, and a copy will be available on site at the clinics.
To meet state regulations, participation numbers were limited to graduation year and on-field gatherings must be less than 50 people. Attendance will be recorded for contact tracing, parent and player self-screening was requested, coaches will wear masks when within six feet of players, and practice times will be staggered to allow one group to fully leave the facility before the next arrives.
According to club organizers, Unity has also been in contact with the county legislators to inform of the program and submitted affirmation to the state of understanding and abiding by its guidelines.
“As a result of the state guidelines, things will be different for the players,” read a collaborative statement from Unity administrators. “We will work on maintaining social distance except for when drills and coaches require close-proximity as per the guidelines. Players will not be allowed to share water bottles or equipment, but for the most part, we will do our best to get the kids back on the field with some sense of normalcy.”
Alteri will coach the younger age group along with Josh Coffman — a teacher and coach in the Lowville district, a former MLL All-Pro, and a National Champion, All-American midfielder at Division I Syracuse University.
For the older divisions of players in grades 5 and above, Lazore will lead the instruction along with General Brown assistant coach and former Utica men’s lacrosse standout, Chad Parker, who has twice been named Section 3 Assistant Coach of the Year. They will be joined by Lions junior varsity coach Chris Delano, a former SUNY Potsdam starter with more than a decade of experience coaching club lacrosse.
Lazore is also working with Unity to offer additional training opportunities for players in grades 7-12 with the Mike Lazore Lacrosse Academy. Lazore will provide personal hour-long instruction for offensive or defensive players in solo sessions or small groups of up to five people.
Lazore played at Division I Hobart after starring for the Cavaliers and helped the Iroquois National Team win the bronze medal in the 2014 and 2018 World Lacrosse Championships. He played more than 90 pro games in his eight-year MLL career before opting to retire at the end of last season, helping the Rochester Rattlers reach the MLL championship game in 2014 and 2015.
“I am extremely excited to be able to help give back to the game of lacrosse and the north country where it all began for me,” Lazore said. “I remember as a kid going to camps around the area and how important they were in my development. Lacrosse has provided many opportunities for me, allowed me to go to college, become a professional athlete, travel the world, connect with my Native American heritage, and now provide the same outlet for kids that I had at their age.”
Unity Lacrosse Club has grown from a boys modified team formed in summer 2016 to a program with squads at each age group from grades 1-12, with more than 100 combined players signed up from various Frontier League schools and from St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Oswego Counties.
In the typical year, Unity Lacrosse participates in about four summer tournaments around the state and a few additional events each fall. They also offered a winter indoor skills clinic this past year and developed a fall box lacrosse league for its youngest age groups.
“The idea is to unite north country lacrosse and the overall lacrosse community on top of the normal school teams,” Alteri said. “Before, to play good competition lacrosse (in the offseason), you had to travel to Syracuse or one of the bigger cities to try to get on a team, and Unity basically allows north country kids to play in their own backyard and play in tournaments against top lacrosse talent.”