Polishing Touches

The game is not only fun, but proficiency in it can yield a college scholarship, a fact to which Ryan Shaw, at left, a Bonacker who handled the face-offs for Providence College this past season, can attest. Jack Graves

    More than 100 6-through-14-year-olds, boys and girls, about evenly divided, learned from some of the best last week in a Rusty Red lacrosse camp overseen by Owen McCormack and his uncle, Brian, at East Hampton High School.
    “It went great, though it was the hottest week of the summer,” said the younger McCormack, who assists Mike Vitulli in coaching the East Hampton High School boys varsity and heads up the Police Athletic League youth lacrosse program here.
    “Our ideal,” he continued, “is to bring lacrosse to this area, to make the kids love it, and to develop a high school program. So, for me, it’s a case of one hand washing the other — I’m helping with the varsity and also coaching the young kids who will feed into it. . . . It’s great to see these guys who’ve played lacrosse here coming back to coach . . . Neil Falkenhan, Zach Brenneman, Jarred Bowe, Austin Heneveld, Ryan Shaw. . . . They’re such good role models.”
    Brenneman, a two-time all-American who just finished a stellar career at Notre Dame, is now playing professionally for the Long Island Lizards. Heneveld’s at Navy, Shaw’s at Providence, and Bowe, who debuted as a goalie at the camp, is at the University of Delaware, where he plays defense in man-down and zone situations.
    The Blue Hens lost 14-13 to Duke in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament this spring, though Bowe, who’s an English major eyeing a sportscasting career, said that, with few losses to graduation, he and his teammates are hoping to advance further in the tournament next year.
    Shaw, who handled the face-offs for Providence University as a freshman, coached while perched on crutches, the result of a recent hip operation to repair a labrum tear he’d played through for most of the season.
    Neither Owen McCormack nor his wife, Renee, who went to school here as well, played lacrosse when they grew up, though both said they readily would have had they been given the chance.
    Their son, Xavier, 11, and daughter, Stella, 7, were among the campers, who came from all over the Island and from as far away as, in the case of a contingent of about 10 11-to-13-year-old boys sponsored by the Rusty Red Foundation, Bridgeport, Conn.
    A nonprofit organization formed by a former Cornell lacrosse player, Joe Lizzio, in 2008, the Rusty Red Foundation is spreading the good news of lacrosse and its potential college scholarship prospects to inner city youngsters who might not otherwise be introduced to the sport.
    “They loved it,” Owen McCormack said of the Bridgeport kids, who could not remain for the entire week “because they had to get back for a basketball championship. . . . They’re all going to be really good lacrosse players. I’d love it if they moved out here.”
    Renee McCormack, who was in charge of doling out “nutritious, energizing snacks,” when questioned, said, “I would have played lacrosse, absolutely, if they had it here when I was growing up.” She had played field hockey, “where you have to keep your stick on the ground,” and “did just about anything . . . the 100, the 3,000, the hurdles . . . in track.”
    She agreed that in some ways the girls game was harder, the flatter pockets making it more difficult to cradle the ball. “It’s as if the boys want to make it harder for the girls,” she said with a laugh.
    She added that it had been chivalrous of the boys to play on the grass sometimes this spring while Bonac’s girls played on the new turf field.
    “It wasn’t about chivalry,” her husband riposted. “It was about winning.”
    To make sure that East Hampton continues to do so, now and in the future, Matt Maloney, who oversees East Hampton High’s girls varsity, which enjoyed its first winning season this spring, was among the camp’s coaches.
    “We’ve got a lot of talent,” he said when asked about his current crop of players, who include Maggie Pizzo, a sophomore midfielder slated to play in a national under-15 tournament in Florida over this weekend, the Seekamps, Amanda and Carley, and the goalie, Alison Charde. Not to mention the Budd twins, Jenna and Lydia, Katie Brierley, Cassidy Walsh, and Dana Cebulski.
    “We just started playing in a summer league at Dowling College yesterday [July 13]. We beat Patchogue-Medford 17-4.”
    Teresa Schirrippa, who helped coach the girls, said she too would have liked to have begun the game earlier. “I was 16 when I first picked up a stick,” said the all-around athlete, who played on East Hampton’s inaugural team under Maureen Rutkowski a decade ago and more recently went on to play defensive end with championship tackle and flag football teams based in New York and Chicago, where she is a high school teacher and coaches basketball and softball at the Josephinum Academy.
    “I wasn’t expecting the talent I’ve seen here,” she said. “Not at this young age [10-to-12]. I’ve been very impressed.”
    Speaking of all-around athletes, Bob Rule, another of the camp’s coaches, a Hall of Fame goalie and former longtime Manhasset coach who played on Cornell’s first national championship team and on this country’s first world team, recommended Spike Lee’s documentary on Jim Brown. In it, said Rule, Dick Schaap, the sportswriter, who was Cornell’s goalie in 1953, said, “the single most frightening moment of his lifetime was seeing Jim Brown [when he was a Syracuse midfielder] bearing down on him. . . . He played with a very short stick that he could hold in close to his chest. That gave rise to the ‘Jimmy Brown Rule.’ Sticks had to be at least 40 inches long after that.”
    As Rule was holding forth, one of his protégées, 11-year-old Jenny Valenti of Port Washington, walked up during a water slide break.
    “Yes, she’s improving,” said Rule in answer to a question. “You know, they always tell shooters to fake high and, when the goalie’s stick goes up, to shoot low. I’ve been teaching Jenny to fake the shooter out by dropping her stick, and when the shot goes high she can pick it off. I made a bet I could score on her. I owe her a Sno-Cone.”
    “There are two criteria for goalies — you have to be very beautiful or handsome and very intelligent.”
    When this writer said he thought lacrosse goalie was the toughest goalie position to play, Rule said, “The mother of the goalie is the toughest job!”
    “Your program will get better and better out here,” the Hall of Famer continued. “Zach Brenneman put East Hampton lacrosse on the map. The tougher the competition gets the more of an honor it will be to make the team. Four guys from Manhasset went to Harvard this year. Probably only one of them would have gotten in anyway. Five went to Amherst. Why? Those schools take 2,000 out of 20,000 applicants. Every one is good, every one is worthy, but these admissions officers are asking themselves, ‘What can he or she do for Harvard, for Amherst, for Duke, for the University of Virginia, for Johns Hopkins, for Yale, for Williams. . . . They’re looking for that something extra, for that edge.”
    “And lacrosse,” said Rule, “can give you that edge.”