This is a feel-good saga that has deep roots in community involvement and impeccable generosity that expands to curious young women looking for a different activity and ends up with a positive energy and excitement all around.
It’s called the birth of girls’ lacrosse at Hoboken High School.
The sport was initiated this spring thanks to the efforts of some quick-thinking philanthropic men who love the sport of lacrosse and want to see it blossom in the Mile Square City.
Lee Peyser is a man with an extensive background in lacrosse, going back to his high school and college playing days at Skidmore College. He has also been involved, strictly as a volunteer, with the Hoboken Lacrosse Club, a group that has been busy teaching the sport to youngsters in Hoboken.
Peyser was once involved with a similar community active organization in Livingston, teaching kids in the highly affluent Essex County municipality the sport and eventually see the group grow to more than 500 kids, both boys and girls, learning the ins and outs of lacrosse and eventually playing the sport, going on to the high school level.
Peyser was interested in seeing a similar effort take place in Hoboken, so he floated the idea to the already existing Hoboken Lacrosse Club to see if they would be interested in planting the seeds to get lacrosse to become a varsity sport at Hoboken High.
“I did feel that there was an opportunity in Hoboken to grow the youth program we have to the high school,” Peyser said.
So Peyser approached Sean Sargent, the president of the Hoboken Lacrosse Club, to see if the idea was feasible.
Sargent was another lacrosse aficionado who played in college at Villanova and continued on playing through his adult days. He liked the idea of seeing the sport he loves expanded to the high school level.
“We first came up with the idea to fund the program, raising all the funds and donating it to the [Hoboken] Board of Education to get the program started,” Sargent said.
As it turned out, the Hoboken Lacrosse Club raised the money to purchase all the necessary equipment and uniforms. Some of the funds came from donations from people like Sargent himself, who donated a substantial amount to get the ball rolling.
Because lacrosse was not going to be a varsity sport right away, the Hoboken Lacrosse Club also donated the funds to pay the stipend for a coach. Enter Joanne Deni, who was already the girls’ soccer coach at Hoboken. Deni had an extensive background in lacrosse, having played in high school and then at The College of New Jersey, helping the Lions win two NCAA Division III national titles during her days there.
“I have been playing lacrosse since I was in fourth grade,” Deni said. “I love lacrosse. I wanted to share my passion for lacrosse and would love to show girls who never even held a stick before how to play the game.”
Now the idea needed able and interested bodies.
“But no one could have ever expected 30 girls to come out for the first time,” Deni said. “We first ordered 24 uniforms. We had to order more. Some of the girls got a little taste in the physical education classes.”
Junior Tiara Rivera didn’t know what to expect.
“I thought it was a rough sport,” Rivera said. “It also had so many rules. But I felt since it was a new sport, I’d give it a try. It was something different. Everyone plays either softball or soccer.”
Sophomore Karena Chazin is a student at High Tech, but is able to participate in athletics with the school in her home district, namely Hoboken.
“I play volleyball and swim already for Hoboken,” Chazin said. “I like being part of a team. So when I heard of lacrosse, I said, ‘I’ll try that.’ None of us ever held a stick before.”
Like everyone else, Chazin admitted that she was not a good lacrosse player at first.
“I was really bad,” said Chazin, who settled in playing either midfield or defense. “It got pretty frustrating when we first started.”
“I didn’t know how to catch the ball or throw it,” Rivera said. “I knew nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing.”
There was another aspect to lacrosse that the girls didn’t realize. The ball may be made of rubber, but it’s very hard.
“That was a shock to me,” Rivera said. “The ball hit my leg one of the first days and I knew that didn’t feel good.”
Deni was impressed with the girls’ collective desire to learn and get better.
“Sure, they were getting frustrated with it, but I said to them, ‘Just give me three weeks,’” Deni said. “I told them that if they couldn’t throw or catch in three weeks, then they could walk away. But to their credit, they didn’t. They kept coming back every day. They consistently show up at practice. They’re fully committed. I never thought this could happen.”
Just six weeks after the first practice, the Redwings are actually winning games, albeit on the junior varsity level. They have won three times against Newark East Side, Benedictine Academy and Bergen Tech.
“I didn’t even care about wins and losses,” Deni said. “But the girls are loving the game. They’re getting better every single day. They’ve gone above and beyond what we could have imagined. They’re actually learning plays and executing them. They’re starting to understand for the most part and not making the same mistakes twice.”
The Redwings have two goalkeepers, which has to be the most difficult position to play in all of sports. Kudos to junior Amanda Burrows and freshman Andrea Marroquin for having the guts to want to be a lacrosse goalie.
Freshman Amanda Hichez is an attack player with a lot of promise.
“She’s been scoring a ton of goals and has been displaying a lot of energy going to the goal,” Deni said.
Midfielders (or middies in lacrosse slang) Tori Bravo and Jasmin Erickson have also shown some instant athleticism.
“I’m happy,” Deni said. “Lacrosse is back in my life. And I hope it stays.”
“We’re having fun and that’s the most important thing,” Rivera said.
“I’m going to keep it up and hopefully play the next two years,” said Chazin. “It’s so cool to learn this sport. I really like it. Since I go to High Tech, I’m also glad to get the chance to know the girls on the team. It’s made learning the sport a whole lot easier.”
Peyser and Sargent both said that they plan to address the Hoboken Board of Education to see if they could make it a varsity sport for both boys and girls in the future.
“I’m totally thrilled,” Sargent said. “They’re getting a chance to learn the game and enjoy it. Who knows? It may lead to college opportunities down the road.”
Whatever the case, the Hoboken Lacrosse Club and the Hoboken Board of Education have formed a bond, thanks in part to the work of Hoboken athletic director Derek England, whose support in the project has been tremendous. It’s a win-win for everyone, a feel-good story indeed…– Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.