What started as a small group of kids playing catch has grown into an organization featuring five teams and more than 70 participants.
The Solanco Lacrosse Club is flourishing 11 years after its humble beginnings.
"Our mission is to continue to build our youth programs," league president Josh Clement said. "To introduce the sport of lacrosse here in the Southern End, increase participation, and build sound skills and fundamentals of the game."
SLC sponsors three girls teams – high school, middle school, and under 10. The boys program has a high school team and a middle school squad.
Mike Minchhoff, head coach of the boys high school team, founded Solanco Lacrosse Club in 2008.
A technology education teacher at Solanco High, Minchhoff played high school lacrosse at Penn Manor club lacrosse at Millersville. His first teaching position was at Dickinson High in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was assistant boys lacrosse coach for two years and head coach for two years.
"When I got here I noticed we didn't have a lacrosse team," Minchhoff said. "Not much else happens in the spring. Parents came up to me and said, 'I heard you've coached lacrosse before.' So that's how it kind of got started."
The first year, there was one high school boys team consisting of eight guys throwing the ball around, Minchhoff said. The following season, 17 boys participated and there were games. The high school roster has had between 18-23 players ever since.
April Pearson became the first girls coach in 2009 with just seven girls in the program.
Doug Dalrymple joined the girls program the following year and has been with Solanco Lacrosse Club ever since.
"No one had ever touched a stick or played before," Dalrymple said. "So when she asked me to come in and play catch with them the following year, I showed up with a boys stick. I had no idea about the girls game. It's very, very different."
Pearson stepped down the next year. "What was I going to do?," said Dalrymple. "I love lacrosse. It's a passion. We're still here. We've gone from seven or eight girls playing catch 10 years ago to three teams. One of our toughest battles is keeping a girl after eighth grade and not losing them to track or softball because it's a varsity sport and we're not. We try to make it like any other sport. We practice from 3 to 5, four days a week with the high school girls. This year, we have 20 girls. It's the best year, yet. Last year, I shut it down because we didn't have enough girls."
Solanco High physical education teacher Tesla Atkins-Miller has given the program a big boost.
Atkins-Miller, also the Hempfield field hockey coach, has turned the program around, Dalrymple said.
"She knows all the girls and talked nine new girls into coming out," he said. "We wouldn't be playing this year if it wasn't for her. She's been monumental. The girls love her."
While far from its only focus, having Solanco School District sponsor varsity boys and girls high school teams has become increasingly critical for the club.
"It's becoming more and more important because club teams in the local area no longer exist," said Minchhoff. "Everyone went PIAA. Who we play in other sports, L-S, Penn Manor, CV, they're all PIAA. We can't play them. Oxford went PIAA. It's becoming much more difficult to find games. At the middle school level it's not a problem because it's not PIAA. At the high school level, it's a huge problem. There were times when we were traveling two hours for games."
Minchhoff also believes making the programs varsity sports would generate more interest in Solanco Lacrosse Club and lessen the burden placed on parents whose kids take part in the club.
"There are some kids who don't come out because there's no varsity team," said Minchhoff. "These parents have to pick these kids up and take them to the games. You don't get out of school early. When we play some of these private schools away during the week we play at 5 o'clock. Other teams are playing at 4 because they get out of school at 2."
Participants have a registration fee which covers membership in U.S. Lacrosse, and also pays for officials, league entry, equipment, lacrosse balls, and even paint to line the field. The coaches are all volunteers.
If Minchhoff had his druthers, Solanco School District would sponsor varsity boys and girls lacrosse teams beginning next year.
"It could go that way because we have both of them established," Minchhoff said.
Said Clement: "These coaches have done a great job of building the interest to a point where, as a club, we felt this last year but we wanted to validate it this year, that there is enough of a feeder program to establish a high school team and sustain it. We don't want a high school team to fail because that doesn't further our mission as a club. Our job isn't to get a high school team. Our job is to build a youth program. Having a high school team facilitates that because these kids say, 'when I get to high school I want to play lacrosse.' That's kind of our self-serving interest."
Solanco athletic director Anthony Hall said he is in favor of adding sports if it is prudent for the long term. "We've met a number of times, already," Hall said. "In my five years. we've met with them twice. The discussion keeps coming up. The only concern, obviously, is that numbers for sustainability for the boys are starting to look good. The girls are not. For our district, the other concern is projection over a 10-year period. We have the whole Title IX compliance thing we have to look at. We have to look at the sustainability of the program. We also have to look at the direction of our district.
“Am I always in favor of adding a sport if I can? Absolutely. It's another opportunity for kids. But I have to be able to see exactly what's going on. Look at Garden Spot right now. Garden Spot was sponsoring a team for club for nine years but when they started sponsoring it for boys for PIAA over the last two years, their roster is only 20 deep. How long is that going to last? It's a concern. I've been approached by some of the young men about boys volleyball. I've been approached every year about swimming. If we can give kids an opportunity, we're going to give them an opportunity. But it has to make sense for longevity-ness. I believe the booster club for the boys requested to present in front of the [school] board in April. They were granted permission so we'll see where it goes."
The Solanco Lacrosse Club is grateful the school district allows the organization to use high school fields for practices and games. "That has been a great benefit the past three or four years," said Minchhoff.
"Having these fields is day and night from having to go down and play a game at Smith (Middle School)."
The use of Solanco School District fields has enabled the Solanco Lacrosse Club to host a big girls tournament Saturday, April 13.