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Left Out in Lacrosse
"It absolutely breeds good kids who are good role models for everyone else," said John Baker, a coach in Baltimore County who helped start a lacrosse program in Baltimore's inner city. "It's good for the kids who play, but it's their parents, teachers and classmates who are affected, too."
Duffy, who runs a small business in Washington, said he encounters far more former lacrosse players who have become CEOs compared with former athletes from other sports. But he said it is difficult to break into Maryland's crowded lacrosse landscape. When he left an assistant coaching job at DeMatha Catholic High School to train the Roosevelt team two years ago, he found himself teaching the most basic skills.
"I've been trying to bring University of Maryland lacrosse drills to what is effectively a glorified rec league team," Duffy said. "On my team, even if kids do have experience, they tend to be a lot less skilled than the ones in other places."
The Prince George's youth lacrosse league, run by Riley's mother, Carolyn Fink, provides opportunities to about 40 third- to eighth-graders, only a handful of whom go on to play high school lacrosse. At DeMatha, a six-acre campus in Hyattsville, two or three varsity players are from the county. None is from neighboring Charles. Half the players are from Anne Arundel County, and a quarter hail from Calvert County.
The difference, DeMatha Coach Scott Pugh said, is that the counties that produce top high school players are the ones with decades-long lacrosse traditions. In Crofton, whose lacrosse teams regularly win state youth championships, former Division I college players and coaches train elementary school students. The Prince George's youth program often has difficulty recruiting qualified coaches.
For Riley, who followed his two older brothers into lacrosse and who Duffy says is by far Roosevelt's best player, choosing to stay in public school and play for a club team could hurt his chances of being recruited by a major college program.
"The bottom line is, if you want to maximize your chances of getting a college scholarship at somewhere like Johns Hopkins or Maryland, you go to a traditional powerhouse high school," said Pugh, who will send eight players from the Class of 2008 to Division I programs.
Riley said that he knows he would have been more heavily recruited by college programs if he had played for a varsity squad and that he had considered transferring to DeMatha after his freshman and sophomore years. Ultimately, he decided to stay at Roosevelt, passing up a chance to start for one of the best teams in the country.
"Coaches will look at two recruits, see a guy who went to Roosevelt and say, 'I've never heard of that,' and go with the kid they know," he said. "If I went to DeMatha or if Roosevelt had a varsity program, I'd have a better name. It's disappointing, but you just have to work harder."