When many of us were kids, our after school activities required punting, bunting or swooshing, and sometimes all three, but there’s a new sport in town that’s not exactly foreign to Oklahoma; it just hasn’t received much attention until now.
Edmond Parks and Recreation started a lacrosse program three years ago with the assistance of many volunteers. Tom and Cheryl Prebula have been with the program since the beginning, and they took some time recently to help explain how the program got to where it is today.
Their first year, about 100 boys and girls, aged seven through high school, participated and spent the season learning the basics of the unfamiliar sport. “As far as we know, we were and still are the only youth program in the state covering boys and girls of those ages,” Tom said.
A year later, that number had nearly doubled and it was time to split the kids into teams and begin league-type play.
Lacrosse is a Native American sport, and some of the local tribes still play stickball, which is where it originated. It’s played with sticks fitted with small nets, which allow players to catch and throw the ball while running up and down the 110 yard field. It’s similar to hockey in that all team members play defensive positions at some point.
“The game’s very exciting to watch,” Cheryl said. “It’s really fast-paced and even if you don’t know anything about it, it’s still fun to watch.”
“There are very few stoppages. Everybody plays and everybody plays a lot because of the running nature of the sport,” Tom said. “It requires good eye-hand coordination, you have to like to run and you have to like to hit and be hit.”
The boys wear helmets, and the girls wear goggles.
“Boy’s lacrosse is much more physical,” Tom said. “For girls, it’s more of a finesse game.”
Tom grew up in Baltimore, where lacrosse has more of a following. He played baseball up until age thirteen, when a friend talked him into trying lacrosse.
“I got a stick, the whole nine yards, and I just fell in love with it,” Tom said. He taught himself to throw and catch using just a stick, a ball and a wall.
He played competitive lacrosse through high school, and then was recruited to play Division I lacrosse at the US Air Force Academy. He continued playing in adult leagues while on active duty, including a men’s team while stationed in Dayton, Ohio. Now, Tom works for Tinker Air Force Base and doesn’t play anymore, but he continues his love for the sport though coaching others. He teaches the boys and Coach Dave Lewis instructs the girls, both with the assistance of parents and volunteers.
When they started, Cheryl took an active role in helping Tom set up teams and rosters, obtain equipment and explain to parents the basics of the game.
“My wife fielded more phone calls than I can count,” Tom said. “She’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to do what we’ve done.”
The Edmond Youth Lacrosse program would not be what it is today without the support of Jim Bowlin, Edmond Parks and Recreation director, and his staff. They have provided fields, coordinated referees, taken registration and purchased balls, goals and goalie equipment.
Since the lacrosse program sprung up, other teams are taking notice. They’ve been invited to weekend tournaments in Dallas, and there are plans to coordinate with teams from Tulsa and the Pottawattamie tribe in Shawnee. Those interested shouldn’t be intimidated by not knowing the sport.
“Since it’s so new, most kids start out at the same level,” Tom said.
Tom and Cheryl’s own girls are too young to play on the team, but they already have their sticks and are ready to go as soon as they’re old enough. Tom's son Zachary, twelve, has been with the program since the beginning.
Registration for the February-May season will begin in late November or early December. In prior years, a free lacrosse clinic was offered at Mitch Park, where kids could try out lacrosse and see if it was for them. It seems most felt it is. A similar clinic will most likely be offered again this season, after the New Year.
“When last season ended, kids were already asking when it would start again,” Tom said.
“Our volunteers are the best. We have some coaches who have never actually played lacrosse, but have taken the time to learn the game in order to coach. We also have had a number of former players who heard about the program and volunteered to either coach or referee games. It is amazing that everyone involved just wants to see this program succeed,” he said.
Practices are scheduled to begin in February. For more information about players or volunteers, call 405.359.4690 or check out http://edmondlacrosse.blogspot.com.