Avon Youth Lacrosse Seeks to Inspire Players, Community
Writer / Jamie Hergott
Photography Provided by Melissa Fry & Trina Burton
Avon Youth Lacrosse (AYL) recently finished another great fall season and is gearing up for a record-breaking spring season. There has been an explosion in participation from its inception two years ago. In 2016, nine kids came out to play for the first season in Avon. Because of the significant growth AYL has experienced, they expect to have numbers approaching 500 this spring.
The club was founded by Craig Suhaka and Jerry Nierzwicki, current President of the AYL board. Nierzwicki attributes the club’s success to the versatility and freshness of the sport.
“There is a place on the lacrosse field for anyone,” Nierzwicki says. “Any level of body type and athleticism has a spot, whether you’re smaller and quicker or bigger with more endurance. There’s a place for every level of ability.”
Lacrosse is a combination of basketball, hockey, soccer and football. A ball is thrown, caught and carried using a long-handled stick that has a curved frame with a piece of netting strung inside.
While lacrosse is a lesser-known sport in the Midwest, it’s actually the oldest sport in the nation and is currently a significant part of the sports landscape on the East Coast. North American Indians used to play it as a way to bring tribes together, encourage negotiation and celebrate religious traditions. Lacrosse played an important role in the community and the religious life of those tribes for many years. Players not only learn this history but sometimes incorporate past traditions into their practices and games.
Avon Youth Lacrosse was born out of the Brownsburg Youth Lacrosse Club, formed by Jason Koles. When Nierzwicki heard rumors of lacrosse starting in Hendricks County, he got in touch with Koles and helped him grow the Brownsburg club. As the club grew, many kids were coming from Avon to play, so Nierzwicki decided to help start an Avon club, along with Suhaka, so more players could be involved.
The club is more than just lacrosse to Nierzwicki and the club’s board. Nierzwicki went into the military right after high school, serving in the Army Reserves and attending school at the same time. He served eight years in the military, between active duty and the reserves, served a tour of duty in Bosnia in 1995 and remains a proud and changed man because of his experiences. He aims to pass on the values he learned in the military to participants in the lacrosse club.
“We use those same principles to teach kids discipline and respect,” Nierzwicki says. “We aren’t just teaching them a sport but life lessons as well. We want them to be good people, live by the golden rule, respect others and respect yourself. We take a lot of pride in that piece of it.”
The club is run by eight board members and 20 coaches, all who completely volunteer their time and see their role as a type of mentorship for the community. The board of directors is responsible for strategic planning, training, the selection of coaches and referees and ensuring safety is further enhanced by qualified professionals. Every single one of the coaches in the AYL is U.S. Lacrosse certified.
“We are passionate about kids being taught right by professionals,” Nierzwicki says. “We treat this as a group effort. We all do it because we love the sport, and we want to provide something better for these kids. We seek only the best so we can leverage the lacrosse program and our knowledge and experiences to develop the leaders of tomorrow on and off the field.”
The coaching philosophy of AYL is to teach the kids what they’re doing and why they’re doing it so they can understand the game, accomplish their goals and encourage creativity as they play. One phrase they believe in as a team, coined by Nierzwicki, is, “Focus on doing the little things right, and big things will happen.” It has become a response chant with coaches after practices and at games.
The club is also growing because parents are searching for safer sports than soccer and football. With youth concussions being a recent hot topic, many parents like that lacrosse is safer. The girls’ teams wear less gear, only goggles and a protective mouthpiece, yet are allowed no contact during play. The boys more protective gear, such as a helmet, shoulder pads, gloves and elbow pads since they are allowed contact during play.
The club provides a fall season for kids to simply practice and get to know the game. This includes free fall introduction to lacrosse clinics. Nierzwicki says this is a great time for kids and parents alike to warm up to the sport. The week consists of simple practices and scrimmages, and the main goal is to have fun. The spring season, which takes off in late February, brings a more serious season, where students take part in more conditioning and technical playing. They compete in games, which may involve some traveling for the 12U and older kids. Competing towns include Fort Wayne, South Bend and even Louisville, KY.
Another reason parents are clamoring to get their kids signed up for lacrosse: scholarships. While the sport is huge on the East Coast, it’s still very fresh in the Midwest. Many Big Ten schools in the Midwest looking to start lacrosse programs are wanting to recruit from the Midwest because athletes new to the sport are easier to train.
“It’s new and a lot of colleges are looking to adopt it and make it a priority,” Nierzwicki says. “When we talk to these colleges and ask them what they’re looking for, they are recruiting from the Midwest.”
While lacrosse can be a more expensive sport considering the gear needed, AYL aims to keep costs down. The board actively seeks sponsorships in the community and does fundraising so that cost does not prohibit any student from playing.
Jonathon Fry, Vice President of the board, is passionate about lacrosse for many reasons but the biggest being that it encompasses so many levels of athleticism and leadership. All players on the field are useful.
“It includes the strength of football, the motion of hockey and the finesse of basketball,” Fry says. “You don’t have one person the whole team relies on, like a quarterback. In this sport, every single player matters.”
Fry believes deeply in the value lacrosse brings to the community because it keeps kids active.
“They’re running the entire practice,” Fry says. “They don’t even know it because they’re having so much fun.”
Fry encourages families to come out and try the sport and get as involved as they want. His own son tried lacrosse after being involved in many sports, including football and basketball.
“We just put it in front of him because we want him to try new and different things,” Fry says. “We thought it would be fun and he is really enjoying playing. Many new kids end up absolutely loving this sport.”
“We want to affiliate with companies and organizations that share the same values we do,” Nierzwicki says. “The love of today’s youth, providing opportunities for them outside the classroom, and providing life lessons on the field, it’s the right thing to do.”
Lacrosse is available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Registration is open, and indoor practices start in February. The spring season includes two practices a week with an optional conditioning on Saturdays. Once the season actually begins, there will be games on top of the weekly practices.
To stay up to date on the club’s registration and schedule, you can find them on Facebook at facebook.com/AYLLacrosse or online at avonlacrosse.club.