Play days are a staple of the girls' lacrosse preseason, but the Howard Community College women's lacrosse team has tweaked the traditional format and added a special meaning.
The Lady Dragons are sponsoring a High School Fun Day on Sunday, Feb. 22 with the objective of both paying back and paying forward.
Women's lacrosse coach Diana Carey created the event in 2013 as a way to help raise money for the program. As a Division I JUCO school, HCC can offer athletic scholarships. Carey hopes to clear close to $4,000 from Saturday's Fun Day and every penny will go toward athletic scholarships for the Lady Dragons.
This year, eight high school teams — Atholton, Catonsville, Centennial, Glenelg, Howard, Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron and Reservoir — will take the field for competitive, but low-key games.
Because Fun Day takes place before Feb. 28 — the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's official start date for the spring season — it is an out-of-season event. That means high school coaches may not participate.
Seniors leaders are organizing each of their respective participating teams.
Carey says she is encouraging teams to include highly touted freshmen and promising JV players "so that they can see how the 'big' game is played."
Each team will play two games on HCC's turf field. The day runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Since the teams can't wear their school uniforms, HCC, in partnership with the Greene Turtle, provides each squad with brightly colored T-shirts.
The teams "look like Easter eggs," Carey said. "The kids have a ball; they really have fun."
Officials from the Howard-Carroll/Maryland Select Officials Association will volunteer their time to officiate at Fun Day. It is part of the giving-back aspect that US Lacrosse encourages and the day will help officials as a tune-up for the season.
"We use this event to train and rate both our new and seasoned officials," said Carey, who holds H-C/MSOA's member at large position. She has officiated lacrosse for nine years.
Three National officials from nearby boards will be on hand to help with Saturday's rating, which will be for those seeking a Local rating.
"We're trying to take [our] board to another level with that really good training and really good feedback. It's important to have outside people to give a different perspective," Carey said.
The play day will also raise community awareness of the HCC women's team. This is Carey's fourth year as coach.
The Lady Dragons compete in Region XX of the National Junior College Athletic Association, but also scrimmage against NCAA schools. Their first game is March 6 at Anne Arundel Community College and, if all goes well, the season will conclude at the national championships the first weekend in May.
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"Community college lacrosse is huge with the JUCO league," said team captain Charlotte Wilkinson, who is a sophomore at HCC who previously played at Howard High School.
Wilkinson had 91 draw controls last year and was a first-team All-JUCO/All-Region pick and she was named an NJCAA All-American.
Katja Randazzo (Howard) and Erica Heaphy (Centennial) were second-team All-JUCO/All-Region selections. Both are also back this season.
Wilkinson said coming out of high school, Howard Community College was the perfect fit.
"I felt like I didn't know what I wanted to do and it seemed like the best route financially," she said. Community college tuition is a fraction of what it is at a four-year school.
At first, Wilkinson said she was a little hesitant to play at HCC, but Carey encouraged her.
"Coach D really influenced me. Playing at HCC builds confidence and self-esteem and I'm glad to know that I can run with the girls," Wilkinson said. "Now I can't imagine not playing lacrosse."