By Sam Jack
GARDEN PLAIN – Passion for the relatively-obscure sport of lacrosse has led two Garden Plain boys to make frequent trips into Wichita to play for that city’s high school club team, the Renegades.
This is Timmy Gallagher II and Sam Fortune’s first season on the competitive traveling team. Before joining, they played for an affiliated grade school team, the Spartans, on which Gallagher’s younger brother, seventh-grader Taeden, currently plays.
Gallagher started playing the sport of lacrosse last year, when he was in eighth grade.
“My mom read about it on the internet, so we looked it up. I saw that it was a lot of running around. People had this gear, cool-looking helmets, and they had sticks,” he said. “I found out you could hit the other kids with the sticks, and that sounded fun. Hitting people with a stick for fun kind of grabbed my interest.”
That description might make lacrosse sound like a bit of a free-for-all, and it can look that way, too, at least to the uninitiated. But in fact lacrosse is a highly strategic sport that combines the physical contact of hockey or football, the sprinting of soccer, and the high speed and accuracy of tennis or basketball.
Native Americans invented the sport, which may be as much as 900 years old and which, in the present day, is most popular in the eastern United States.
In the modern version, players use sticks with nets on the end to throw, catch and run with a hard rubber ball, trying to throw the ball past a goalie and into a net in order to score.
Just keeping the ball cradled in the net while sprinting down the lacrosse field is a challenge, let alone doing it while your opponents are trying to get in your way and jar the ball loose.
“My brother and I practice every night on cradling, and then passing and catching is very hand-eye coordinated,” Gallagher said. “It just takes practice.”
Fortune started playing lacrosse in fourth grade. He signed up for a YMCA lacrosse program at the suggestion of his baseball coach, then joined the Spartans before moving up to the Renegades this season.
“It’s been a little different, adjusting to the vibe on the Renegades,” Fortune said. “When I played for the younger teams, it was slower, and the kids were not as strong. When you get to that high level, they’re bigger, stronger and faster. It’s been fun to try to keep up and get better with them.”
The game is exhausting even for the most experienced players, since most playing time is spent either sprinting, getting ready to sprint or being body-checked. That means substitutions are frequent, and communication is key.
“If you don’t communicate, you’re going to have a rough game,” Gallagher said. “We have play names like ‘Memo,’ ‘Carolina,’ many others. If a player is coming down the field and I’m not guarding him, the players around me have to yell ‘slide’ so that the person with the ball can’t shoot. Between that and coaches yelling certain things that can be changed in the middle of a game, you have to adjust very quickly.”
With lacrosse teams thin on the ground in this part of the country, the Renegades have to travel to find worthy opponents. They have already been to Kansas City and St. Louis this season and are planning a trip to Lincoln, Neb.
That need for travel, both to away matches and to practices and home matches in Wichita, is the main thing keeping more Garden Plain boys from taking up lacrosse, both Gallagher and Fortune said. Gallagher, with help from Fortune, led a lacrosse workshop for Garden Plain High School classmates this January and found a lot of interest in the sport.
“I think if we had a club team closer to here, a lot of guys would sign up,” Fortune said. “Hopefully we’ll see that someday.”
Along with Fortune and Gallagher, two Eisenhower High School students are members of the Renegades: freshman Aidan Garrett and sophomore Corbin Kallman.
For more information on the Renegades team and its affiliated youth, girls’ and men’s programs, visit www.wichitalacrosse.com.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the March 29 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. Subscribe to see stories like this first and to get all the community news that’s available only in print. Call 316-540-0500 today and get home delivery of the paper next week.