New Trier LAX coach starts youth program as travel alternative
Jack Hill learned to love lacrosse by playing with and against his neighbors. He won two state championships starting for New Trier High School. He scored goals in his first and final collegiate games playing for Quinnipiac College.
The moments are just a slice of lacrosse memories that will last Hill’s lifetime. But if Wilmette didn’t have a youth program when he was a child, he doesn’t think any of it would have happened.
“I probably wouldn’t have played lacrosse,” Hill said. “I would have looked for more opportunities for sports that already had a youth program, like basketball or something.”
The program Hill played for — North Shore Lacrosse, out of Wilmette — no longer exists. Neither does the Winnetka Wild, leaving Kenilworth Lacrosse as the only house program in the state’s most prolific lacrosse region, New Trier Township, which has claimed 25 state championships (New Trier: 13; Loyola Academy: 12) in the last 31 years.
It’s a big reason Hill is joining the efforts of Tom Herrala, New Trier’s varsity boys head coach, who recently launched Junior Trevian Lacrosse. The Junior Trevians are a local club that aims to make the sport more accessible to area boys, especially those who want to try lacrosse.
“I really want to open up an opportunity in the community for people to play the game in an economical way and coached by the best coaches in the area if not the state,” Herrala said. “I want them to have the opportunity to play the game I’ve been around for 40 years. It is awesome. And there is nowhere to play. Park districts don’t really have it.”
Outside of the Kenilworth Park District program, lacrosse youth from the township must join a travel club, such as Team One Lacrosse, out of Glenview; Midwest Express, out of Chicago; All In Lacrosse, out of Northbrook; or True Lacrosse, out of Lombard.
Herrala and Hill, who is the head girls lacrosse coach at Regina Dominican High School, said that travel programs place a significant burden — whether payment, time commitment or travel — on young players and their families.
“You travel a lot, it takes away from playing with friends in your neighborhood, there’s no drop-in lacrosse,” Hill said. “Lacrosse has a learning curve. Kids need sticks in their hands at a young age to get it. There are kids without opportunities to play youth lacrosse and then are too behind the curve to start in high school. … Youth lacrosse is important to get those kids who don’t want to play travel lacrosse and they get to play with their friends.”
Junior Trevian Lacrosse will hold two free, one-day clinics — Aug. 28 and Sept. 11 — led by Herrala’s staff, which includes former New Trier standouts like Matt Solberg and high school coaches. Herrala said the clinics are designed for “people who don’t really know if their son likes the game.”
After the free clinics, Junior Trevian Lacrosse will also host a seven-week fall clinic for youth players not yet in high school. The cost is $260 for 14 sessions ($19/session) at Duke Childs Field in Winnetka. In comparison, a six-session fall clinic from Team One Lacrosse costs $215, or $36 per session. The websites of True and Midwest Express do not promote fall clinics, but tryouts for their travel teams cost $40 and $60, respectively. All In Lacrosse, charged $275 for 11 summer sessions ($25/session) in Kenilworth.
A full travel season, including out-of-town games and practices, for club lacrosse costs thousands of dollars, Herrala said. The Junior Trevian program costs $450 for ages 5-13 and $550 for 14-18.
Herrala said parents also must consider equipment costs, which for lacrosse are among the highest in youth sports. A helmet, stick, gloves and pads cost between $300 and $600. For the Junior Trevian free clinic, all that is required is a stick, and Herrala said he is working with area sports shops on an inexpensive lacrosse starters pack.
The goal, Herrala said, is to enable more New Trier youth to try the sport and he fears local lacrosse is losing children who try other activities without ever picking up a lacrosse stick.
“Are we missing those kids? I’ve been thinking about this for years,” Herrala said. “So I’m doing it.”
If the young players enjoy the sport, Herrala and company will give them the opportunity to continue with the Junior Trevians in a spring program. Herrala hopes participation eventually warrants the creation of teams that can compete against Kenilworth and other area youth programs.
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319