Laura Koras was shepherding four wiggly kids through The Shops at Kenilworth and navigating the recession at the same time.
"Five pairs of lacrosse shorts and two T-shirts for $60," said Koras of Reisterstown after visiting the Lax World Outlet. The discount shop at the Towson mall sells new but dated equipment at prices at least half those in Lax World's retail stores.
"My husband is a financial planner," she added. "So with us, you make every penny count."
The popularity of the local lacrosse outlet, which is associated with the specialty retail chain, and other sports equipment discounters, such as Play it Again Sports, makes it clear that bargain-hunting has become a game more popular than ever.
For the first time since 2003, wholesale figures for sporting goods were down in 2008 from the year before, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. But the decline of 3.2 percent, to $66.3 billion in sales, was less of a hit than was suffered by many other consumer goods categories.
One reason is that parents frequently are buying for their children, said Larry Weindruch, a spokesman for the National Sporting Goods Association
"If the kid has a musical aptitude, the parents will find a way to get the lessons," Weindruch said. "And if a kid has an aptitude for tennis, the parents will do what it takes to let the child do that. Parents do make sacrifices. Whatever the state of the world, what parents do for kids doesn't change."
But they might try to do it a little less expensively.
Rey Guzman, a benefits consultant from Baltimore, was at Play it Again Sports in Cockeysville eyeing youth golf clubs for his niece. Guzman scored a set of used clubs - five irons, a wood, a putter and the bag - for $39. The store even tossed in a club cover for the driver.
"This was the perfect thing for someone who's just learning the game," Guzman said, "especially when things are tight and everyone is trying to cut down on their spending.
While Play it Again Sports may be best known for buying and selling used sports equipment, about 80 percent of the Cockeysville store's inventory is new.
However, it is the store's reputation for bargains, manager Nick Carney said, that brings most customers into his shop. Carney said that after a slowdown last fall and a poor Christmas season, his business has picked up for the two most popular spring sports, lacrosse and baseball.
"Actually, baseball is a cheaper sport. You just need a glove, cleats and a bat," Carney said. "But with lacrosse, you have to be covered from head to toe."
A new lacrosse outfit - including helmet, shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves, sticks and all the rest - can cost $300 to $400, Carney said. "But in used equipment, we can do it for $150."
Mike Kazlauski of Timonium was in the store loading up on used softballs for the team he helps run and bought 21 for less than $20 after seeing a bucket of new balls for four times that much at a regular retailer.
"You spend a whole lot less and get the same outcome," Kazlauski said.
Carney said the recession also has affected the volume of equipment that people are looking to trade in. In exchange for their old sports gear, customers receive about 40 percent of the resale value in store credit.
And the used sporting gear does not stay on shelves very long, he said, because buyers are making it clear that they want to spend as little as possible.
"Recently, that comment has been made more than once," Carney noted. "And we try to help them get out the door for the least amount out of pocket."