Youth Lacrosse in Philadelphia
By Michael Noone
Growing up in Philadelphia, I started playing lacrosse in the 3rd grade and began watching high school games a few years later. It was quickly apparent to me that Philadelphia lacrosse was not top-tier, but rather the best players in the country were from Maryland and Long Island. I couldn’t really understand why Philadelphia lacrosse was so far behind other geographic areas that were so close in location. While trying to see what accounted for this, I quickly realized it was the quality of the youth programs rather than the genetic talent for lacrosse in these areas. Youth lacrosse programs in Long Island and Maryland had great structure; they were led by talented coaches and players and started at a very young age. In contrast, Philadelphia lacrosse lacked severely in these aspects and did not have the same commitment to lacrosse.
However, I was very fortunate due to the fact that my youth lacrosse program was one of the exceptions, and was run very similar to a youth team in Maryland or Long Island. By the time I was twelve years old, our team had already won two state championships. As we grew older, most of the team stuck together and went on to play at LaSalle High School. Due to our strong youth program, our success continued as we captured two consecutive high school championships and were ranked in the top five in the country. My graduating class had an astonishing 12 Division I college lacrosse recruits, and I was one of those twelve. I chose to attend Lehigh due to their combination of great lacrosse and academics. The coaches at Lehigh made it very clear that they were dedicated to turn a struggling program around very quickly. After meeting all of the fellow recruits in my class, I was ecstatic with the group of kids I would be spending the next four years with.
There is no doubt that top-tier high school lacrosse programs and Division 1 recruits have a direct correlation with strong youth lacrosse programs. In contrast to when I was younger, Philadelphia lacrosse has now arrived. Division I college lacrosse players from Philly are now able to compete with recruits from Maryland and Long Island. Additionally, elite high school programs have emerged around Philadelphia which is a direct result of the hard work, commitment, and quality instruction in the youth programs. For myself, and most Division I college lacrosse players, the college lacrosse experience is an extension of the commitment made in youth and high school lacrosse. A few factors played a large part in this transformation. Many older Philadelphia players started taking pride in their region and dedicated themselves to starting strong, structured youth teams. Additionally, the lacrosse platform in Philadelphia grew due to the two professional teams in that area. They really helped to create buzz for younger athletes and generated interest.
Fortunately, I was part of the turnaround in Philly. Kids from Maryland and Long Island need to realize that the rest of the country will soon be able to compete, and the days of regional lacrosse dominance are quickly coming to an end.