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Bridging two Baltimores, a lacrosse league is born

The Baltimore Sun

Here's what I hope happens: Years from now, Ryan Boyle, the great lacrosse player, looks back on a stellar career in his chosen sport - from Gilman to Princeton to professional teams in New York and Philadelphia - and he declares the Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League his most important accomplishment. I hope the league is a success and that it lasts forever.

Except for a clinic the league held on a rainy, muddy Saturday in March in Patterson Park, not a single ball has been thrown yet, not a single shot taken on goal. But this new BYLL looks great on paper, and I have a feeling - and sincere hope - that it's going to be a happy reality on the field.

We can use a happy reality.

We're about to have another big, exciting weekend in Baltimore - three collegiate lacrosse championships being decided in M&T; Bank Stadium, starting Saturday - but as this is written, the police radio scanner in The Sun newsroom reports a triple shooting near North Avenue, just a few blocks from where, on Tuesday morning, fire erupted in a rowhouse crowded with adults and children, killing six of them.

Two Baltimores.

Two cities in one.

One seems to be always bleeding and dying, with numerous children about - the innocent bystanders and victims of poverty, family dysfunction and violence.

And so I come to stories like this one - Ryan Boyle and some of his lacrosse buddies from one Baltimore dreaming over a pizza about how they might make a difference in the other one. And we have to give them props, not just for the idea, but for the effort - a smart plan for a new league, a vigorous fundraising effort and a launch next month.

Here's what we have:

Boyle, the four-time All-American lacrosse player, and his former Gilman and Princeton teammate Rob Lindsey start a lacrosse training company called Trilogy Lacrosse. They see the future here - a way to extend their lacrosse experiences, capitalize on their success and connect with kids. They'll run camps and clinics and coach tournament teams.

They're having a pizza one day at the Thirsty Dog in Federal Hill with David Skeen, another former teammate from Gilman who teaches at the Calvert School in Baltimore. The idea of bringing lacrosse to children - the ones for whom the sport is unaffordable and virtually inaccessible - comes up. "And Rob and Ryan are all over that idea," says Skeen.

So they create the Trilogy Foundation, with Skeen doing the organizing with Lindsey while Boyle lends his name and pursues his busy career in professional lacrosse, playing for an indoor team (New York Titans) and an outdoor team (Philadelphia Barrage) and securing endorsements from equipment makers.

Skeen and Lindsey work up a plan, and the plan is relatively simple: A five-week summer league for middle school-age boys and girls. The league will consist of eight boys' teams and four girls' teams. It will extend the city's limited middle school lacrosse league for those already playing the sport and open the lacrosse experience to kids who have yet to touch a stick. The league will take walkups, too; no kid will be turned away.

And everyone plays for free.

Skeen and Lindsey land partners and supporters - BGE, Towson University, Gary and Susan Rosenbach, the Parks and People Foundation, Blax Lax, the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks, Next Level Lacrosse. The foundation stages a clinic in Patterson Park on March 24, and about 200 children turn out to try lacrosse. And every boy and girl gets a new stick and a ball donated by Lax World and Sports Her Way.

"I travel all over the country," says Boyle, "and I see lacrosse spreading everywhere, but not in the city. We think of lacrosse as a fixture in Baltimore, but it's not the case. The kids don't have access to equipment and fields."

So Trilogy will introduce the sport to what Boyle calls "a demographic that's not in tune with lacrosse yet."

"We want to get sticks in the hands of kids who wouldn't normally have the opportunity," he says. "Give them equipment, give them the field space, teach them the game. We'd like to see the game grow to the point where playing it in the high school and at the collegiate level becomes a real option."

Trilogy hopes to get parents involved as coaches. League administrator Kareem McKnight, president of the Morgan State club team, says he's recruiting teammates to volunteer their time. Members of the Morgan club team helped with the Patterson clinic in March.

Skeen says the nonprofit foundation has raised more than $50,000. Recently, a raffle at Mad River Bar and Grill netted $3,700. The money will be used to supply the teams from city rec centers with full equipment and to transport the children to the playing fields.

Baltimore having the NCAA Final Four at M&T; again is exciting, and it's good for the city.

I think you can say the same about the BYLL at Patterson Park, first games June 30.

Men and women with criminal records may obtain information about re-entry programs and jobs by contacting columnist Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166 or at dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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