Lacrosse a growing sport in Fort Worth

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The details of Jacob Moreno’s first lacrosse game are lost somewhere in his memory. He doesn’t remember the score, his missed passes, his fumbled stick skills or his amateur catching and throwing.

But he remembers the feeling. He fondly recalls the sheer excitement of the game.

“It just felt right, like, I was supposed to be there,” he said. “It’s hard to explain.  I was already excited that I was going to get to play it again,” Moreno said.

Across the country, lacrosse is growing each year. Once considered as a gentleman’s game for the upper crust, lacrosse is becoming a popular sport for boys and girls of all ages, even in the Fort Worth area.

A leading local advocate for lacrosse is Marc Wilson, a fiery redhead with a sharp tongue and freckles galore, who has worked with the Fort Worth Youth Lacrosse Association since its introduction in 2009.

The Fort Worth Youth Lacrosse Association was originally composed of two fifth and sixth grade teams. Now the league has two third and fourth grade teams, two fifth and sixth grade teams and two seventh and eighth grade teams. It also includes a varsity and a prospective junior varsity team for high school-age students.

Sunday afternoons, Wilson and his assistant coaches, Travis Brancel and Danny Le, hold informal lacrosse practices preparing for the upcoming spring season. The boys — some Paschal students and others from Weatherford and Mansfield — toss the lacrosse ball from stick to stick.

Moreno, a Paschal junior, began playing lacrosse when he lived in California. After a short career running Paschal cross-country, he has made lacrosse his main athletic priority.

Moreno said lacrosse combines the formation strategy of basketball, the speed of soccer, the stick skills of baseball and the physicality of football and hockey.  But, according to Moreno, lacrosse is more than a sport.

“It’s like a way of life. After a while, the stick becomes an extension of yourself. You have a connection to your stick,” he said. “When I play, it feels s really natural.”

Because lacrosse players are considered “the surfers of the athletic world” size does not make or break a team. While football and basketball require great genetics, lacrosse players simply need speed and passion to be competitive.

“You don’t have to be the biggest on the team. As long as you’re fast, you can be first string,” Moreno said.

Though lacrosse is the center of Moreno’s world, the same is not true for everyone. In the Texas athletic sphere, lacrosse is still widely unknown.

Wilson said, “In Texas, kids grow up and want to play football, football, football.” But on the East Coast, kids grow up around lacrosse, which is their football, he said.

In Fort Worth, many parents grew up playing lacrosse on the East Coast or in California. Now that people are discovering the lacrosse league, Wilson said, they are getting the word out and pushing their kids to play lacrosse.

Wilson said he began coaching the Paschal lacrosse team “because [he] couldn’t keep [his] mouth shut.”

His coaching career began at Euless Trinity for a couple of years. Then he began assisting parents to get the lacrosse program at the 109’s Fort Worth Country Day off the ground.

When the Fort Worth Youth Lacrosse league was established, a parent recommended Wilson to get involved, and he has stayed involved since 2009.

His coaching style is relaxed and fresh, Moreno said. Because Wilson and his coaches are younger in comparison to other coaches, they introduce their kids to some newer ways to play the game.

In his first year of Fort Worth lacrosse, Wilson coached two teams of fifth and sixth graders, also doubling as a referee on the side when needed.

“It’s all-volunteer. None of us gets paid for anything. We dedicate our lives to the youth of America,” he said, jokingly.

The Paschal Panthers play in the Texas High School Lacrosse League, where the Panthers challenge other high school club teams that association with high schools across the metroplex. They play in the North District of DFW, the most competitive district in the state.

In the upcoming spring, the varsity Paschal Panthers will play Division III lacrosse against Fort Worth Country Day, Trinity Valley, All Saints, Lovejoy High School and others. Next year, the team will move to Division II and play Colleyville, Killer, Frisco and McKinney among others. 

The move to Division II requires 50 percent of the roster to attend the associated high school. The current team includes players from Weatherford and Mansfield, Wilson said. But next year, the Panthers must add more Paschal students to the team.

However, inexperience is nothing new to the Panthers. This season’s varsity team has 7 out of 23 boys who have played lacrosse before. Last year, only three boys had ever played lacrosse before, and the team finished with a 2-12 record.

“It sounds really bad, but we didn’t do that bad,” Le said.

“Considering that the leagues been around for 15 years and we were playing against teams that have been around for eight or nine years, that fact that we were able to win two games says a lot,” Wilson said. “This year will be different.”

Despite the inexperience of the area, Wilson is optimistic that the Panthers will begin a tradition that will breed more competitive and experienced players.

And when they talk about spring, they all twinge in excitement. In the spring, “that’s when it gets real fun,” Brancel said.

The practice continues with missed passes, clumsy stick work and struggles all around the board. But with each mistake and amateur fumble, the coaches each shake their heads and smile.

“Don’t we have awesome lives?” Brancel said.

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