Lacrosse gains footing in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 1, 2013 

30 Lacrosse

Nick Estrada, right, demonstrates how to knock an opponent's stick from his hands, using his little brother Adam, as local players from the Whatcom County Lacrosse teach kids the fundamentals of lacrosse at Shuksan Middle School on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

The bulls in Pamplona have nothing on 30 youth lacrosse players wielding sticks, chasing down the coaches with one collective goal in mind: Get the ball.

Frantically, all six coaches at the Bellingham Youth Lacrosse camp at Shuksan Middle School raced from one end of the field to the other, avoiding the ploys of the tireless kids trying to win the daily prize. Thing was, nobody knew who had the balls.

"Do you have it?" Adam Estrada said, passing his older brother, Nick, who is orchestrating the six-week long camp.

"No. Do you?" Nick said back, with a horde of lacrosse sticks in tow.

Slowly, yet surely, the kids' dog-like energy had no bounds, capturing the balls from a visibly exhausted group of coaches.

Alyis Clark, a coach and player for the Whatcom Warriors high school lacrosse team, took to a hunched-over position after a wave of kids swept over him.

"The kids are like, 'Holy crap, we get to beat up on the coaches,'" Nick Estrada said of the practice-ending competition.

Estrada, 18, who just graduated from Bellingham High School in June, has been running the first installment of the Bellingham Youth Lacrosse summer camp for four weeks now. The camp has 40 registered children ranging from second grade through eighth. The camp meets every Tuesday and Thursday at Shuksan Middle School from 5 p.m. to about 6:15 p.m.

The program, at its core, is meant to introduce children at the elementary and middle school levels to the sport of lacrosse, Estrada said. Bellingham and Whatcom County doesn't offer much by way of summer leagues for lacrosse players at the elementary level, he added.

Estrada is a commanding presence on the patchy field, outwardly relishing the role of teaching lacrosse to the younger generation.

"At this age, it's all about the sport," he said, taking a moment to bark out directions for a passing drill.

Lacrosse is still trying to gain footing in the greater Whatcom County area. And although it has migrated West, like the old adage of "Go west, young man," it's still far less popular than it is on the East Coast.

"Everyone grows up with a stick in their hand over there," Estrada said. "It's as big as basketball."

As Estrada paces from drill to drill in his yellow lacrosse tank top with the number "14" on the back, cuffed-up dark-washed jeans and red Nike cleats, he knows the basis of this camp is to teach the fundamentals of lacrosse.

"Half haven't even picked up a stick before," he said. "We have to go back to the beginning."

His drills mirror his mentality.

Players go through a military of drills, starting with passing with both their right and left hands, moving on to scooping up a ball on the ground and inevitably making it to attacking the net and shooting.

At the end of each drill, Estrada yelled, "Hold the balls," and 30 pairs of eyes concentrate on him. To them, the kids at the high school level are the professionals, he said. They look up to them for guidance.

"Kids look forward to being with the high school kids," he said, his brother Adam adding that the younger lacrosse players always want to tag along and work on their passing.

That everybody-knows-everybody lacrosse community is what excites Estrada as he corrects a younger players' form during the spin-dodge drill, or when he tapped a kid on the helmet to tell him he did a good job.

"Lacrosse is really cool up here because it is a city sport," he said. "There are no inter-city rivalries. It's part of Bellingham, not just Sehome, Bellingham or Squalicum. It's part of the whole city."

Estrada was one of the first players to go through the entire lacrosse program, from elementary through high school in Whatcom County. He and the other coaches share a similar mindset.

"If all works out, they'll play forever," he said.

Solidifying lacrosse as a viable sport contending for youth interest starts on a field with more weeds than grass, and guys like Estrada and the older players for the Whatcom Warriors.

Reach DAVID RASBACH at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2271.

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