While Greater Bangor may be the next stop for the expansion of Maine high school lacrosse, it by no means marks the end of that growth at the youth level.
“There already are some teams down on the [Midcoast] and I think the next step is we’re going to see groups in the Houlton, Presque Isle and Caribou area,” said Tim Baude, a program director for the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department, which hosts Eastern Maine Lacrosse youth travel teams for youngsters through high school age.
The Aroostook County presence now exists through Northern Maine Lacrosse, a fledgling program that offers the sport for more than 30 youths in grades 3-6 from Smyrna to Mars Hill.
The effort is the brainchild of Ken Ervin of Houlton, who moved with his wife Liz and their five children from western New Hampshire back to her hometown nearly two years ago.
The Ervins’ two oldest sons, Zachariah and Isaiah, had begun playing lacrosse in New Hampshire, and while they initially joined baseball teams in Houlton their hearts were still with the sport they left behind.
“It’s one of those things where you make promises to your children and you try to teach them to follow through and stick to their guns and do what they say,” said Ken Ervin. “They were asking, ‘What about lacrosse? What about lacrosse?’”
Northern Maine Lacrosse was awarded a grant through US Lacrosse in April 2016 that provided 30 “soft” lacrosse sticks and 30 “soft” lacrosse balls, equipment similar to what normally is used in physical education classes.
Ervin then offered an introductory lacrosse class in Houlton last July that attracted 23 boys and girls, leading to weekly clinics.
He successfully applied for another US Lacrosse grant last fall that supplied up to 20 girls lacrosse sticks and protective eye goggles as well as US Lacrosse memberships, though a similar grant for boys equipment was denied.
But earlier this year the effort received a grant from the Bill Belichick Foundation that provided 24 sets of boys lacrosse gear as well as a set of goalie gear and 24 practice “pinnies.”
“That kind of just put the icing on the cake. Now our boys’ families who might have been on the fence could definitely do it,” Ervin said.
Ervin said Northern Maine Lacrosse also has received significant support from the community, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Houlton Band of Maliseets, the latter purchasing two lacrosse goals and letting NML use its recreational field, also home to the Houlton High School football team.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the sense of community here,” he said.
Two Northern Maine Lacrosse teams, one with 17 girls from grades 3-6 and the other with 16 boys from grades 3-6, are working out twice a week this spring — indoors at a Houlton elementary school until the snow clears — in anticipation of the coming season.
“It’s very developmental,” Ervin said. “A majority of the players aren’t baseball or softball players so it’s not like we’re pulling away from those numbers. If anything we’re just providing more families the chance for their kids to be involved in sports and the camaraderie that comes with it.”
The youngsters anticipate playing their first matches this year against teams from Eastern Maine Lacrosse, Mid-Maine Lacrosse in the Newport-Pittsfield area and Central Maine Lacrosse of Waterville, as well as in regional tournaments.
“We’ve got some challenges based on the distance piece,” said Ervin, “but our families are aware of it, they’ve bought into it and are in full support of whatever we need to do to provide opportunities for our youth to play this sport.
“Everybody’s hoping and praying we can play at least maybe a handful of home games so people can get an idea of what all these kids are working hard at two days a week, but we’ll see what happens.”
Ervin said one long-range goal is to provide area lacrosse players the opportunity to compete during their high school years.
“Lacrosse is a fast-growing sport and I think it’s eventually going to come up this way but it may not be for three or four years. Who knows?” Ervin said. “So the question was do we wait for it to happen or do we just make it happen?”