Delaware Sports Zone

By- Sean Greene
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Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in high schools around the country, and the bug has spread to perhaps a surprising place.

Wilmington’s Ferris School, the nationally-accredited treatment facility for convicted males aged 13-18, has introduced the sport into their student population for the first time this spring.

At first blush, it seems like a strange choice, baseball has long been the most popular sport for boys in the spring season, but Jack McDonough, the Depute Director of Youth Rehabilitative Services says lacrosse turned out to make more sense.


“We didn’t think baseball was the right fit, you have to play it from the time that you’re really young, but we felt lacrosse would be perfect. There’s a lot of running, a lot of the same defense as basketball.”

Playing sports is critical, according to McDonough, as they work to systematically improve the students who “are good people, but have been dealt a bad hand.”

“The great thing about sports,” McDonough added, “it exposes in all of us the good and the bad. Those moments that reveal some of those areas to work on, we’re able to take it into the building, and talk about it in the classroom, and talk about it in the field, which really helps these kids when they go home, and to their schools, and to their jobs.”

Lacrosse can be even harder hitting than football at times, but the Falcons choose to focus on the finesse part of the game in precision passing and dodges, as opposed to running an opponent over.

In fact, at one point during their game against Salesianum’s junior varsity, one Ferris player gets called for charging, and coach Emmanuel Carlis immediately ran over to the Salesianum coaches to apologize.

Carlis is getting quality help from U.S. Lacrosse, Wilmington Friends, and the University of Delaware’s club lacrosse team, and says everyone associated with Ferris in on a sharp learning curve.

“This is totally new for all of us, and if they can learn something new, and take that in life that they can do something new that they’re not experienced at and do well with it, that’s a lesson we can teach them.”

The lessons are soaking through. Ferris gets an early goal on a strong power move to bring the game to 2-1, setting off a boisterous celebration on the Falcons’ sideline.

Things weren’t always that smooth. Salesianum scored the next six goals, and those smiles begin to turn to frustration. A couple of players threaten to quick, but Carlis and his coaches were there with encouraging words.

“We have our challenges, it wasn’t easy today. Some kids go downhill, some kids go in the middle, and some kids stay up. That’s what we have to work with to keep them on the higher level.”

Ferris is the only school of its kind in the country with a lacrosse team, and to help, U.S. Lacrosse is planning a clinic with some of the best players in the country heading behind the secured walls next month to work with the team.

As the game began to wind down, Ferris found their second goal of the game, and the frustration wisked away again into the smiles you’d see on any sideline in that situation. One player, who the school asked not to be identified, said he’s proud of his team’s achievements, so far.

“You can see how much teamwork we have, and how much dedication we put into this lacrosse team, so it’s good to see it.”

After the game, you might not have known that Salesianum won the game, as Ferris celebrated with a huddle, and even a celebratory water bucket dumping onto the head of McDonough. It’s easy to forget that some of the students may be in there for serious crimes.

Many of these students will leave Ferris and head back to their schools with a new talent, and perhaps a team to try out for in the future.

Carlis said you can’t give up on his players.

“They’re kids. Give them a chance, they cry like kids, they’re needy like kids, they miss their parents like kids, they’re kids.”

And they are kids playing a fast-growing sport, and doing so impressively. Ferris has five more games remaining on their schedule, five more chances to learn the lessons that lacrosse, and all sports, bring to any young athlete.

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Delaware Sports Zone
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