Heading into its eighth year, the First Stick Program has leveraged the support of generous individual, foundation and corporate donors into more than $9.2 million worth of equipment to give 22,370 kids on 768 teams (448 boys, 320 girls) in every region of the country the opportunity to play lacrosse—many for the first time.
Better still, the First Stick Program is evolving – along with all of US Lacrosse’s programs and services – to help even more teams get started (the “introductory” phase) and help them grow.
One new expansion in the First Stick Program is that non-profit organizations can now apply to receive a Starter Kit Package, which provides 30 lacrosse sticks, two dozen soft practice balls, and two 3’x3’ goals. This provides a new way for program leaders to introduce the sport to new participants.
“Our goal is to make sure kids get the right lacrosse at the right time,” said Joshua Christian, managing director, sport development and hall of fame. “So, we’ve looked closely at our programs, especially First Stick, to make sure they’re meeting the needs of those we serve.”
This approach is derived from the core values of the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model (LADM), which focuses on “fun and kid-centered play.” With the starter kit and guidance from LADM-centric teaching materials, program leaders can help kids with different ability levels discover and enjoy the sport.
In subsequent years, those programs can then apply for First Stick grants as the players – and the program itself — mature. As always, the goal is to help programs, particularly those in urban and non-traditional areas, to move from “active to excellence” with the assistance of other sport development and diversity and inclusion grant programs.
“Sometimes the organizations themselves aren’t ready to field full-on competitive teams,” said Christian, “so the Starter Kit Package may work best for them.”
Of course, there is no requirement to start with the “Starter Kit.” Teams may still apply for a Youth or High School Team Grant, which provides enough equipment for 20 field players and 1 goalie. Organizations that receive a Team Grant are required to be part of the US Lacrosse Member Program, and will receive complimentary US Lacrosse membership for up to 2 adult coaches and up to 20 youth or high school players.
An additional “evolution” that should benefit many teams is that the First Stick Program grants have moved from an annual grant process to a rolling one. Previously, applications were due in the early Fall, awards were made at the end of the year and equipment was delivered in late Winter in time for the Spring season. This meant that a program that was not awarded or missed the deadline would have to wait another year for assistance.
Now, awards are granted monthly October through May and are coordinated by US Lacrosse regional staff rather than through the national office. This has allowed US Lacrosse to be more responsive to prospective new programs and to the needs specific to particular regions of the country.