Lacrosse players invade Greenport for annual tournament

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Lacrosse players from all over Long Island descended upon Greenport this weekend.

More than 5,000 visitors descended on Greenport this weekend — 2,200 lacrosse players and their friends and families — for the 18th Annual Long Island Lacrosse Shootout that saw players of all ages competing for 101 different teams.

Anyone who rode up Moore’s Lane in Greenport Saturday or Sunday found little parking and heard a whole lot of cheering from coaches, family and friends as teams from throughout Suffolk and Nassau counties took over the fields on the eastern side of the street that are usually dominated by football, soccer, baseball and other sports during the school year.

Not so many years ago, lacrosse players had trouble gaining a foothold on the North Fork as school districts hesitated to spend money on the sport that might mean withholding funds from other long-established activities. But parents, supported by Jimmy Howell of the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Foundation, lobbied and now a number of North Fork students are enthusiastic about the game.

Despite his enthusiasm for the game now, Mr. Howell never played lacrosse. His brother was running a league in Mineola and got him involved.

There was a league operating on the South Fork, but “they did a pretty poor job,” Mr. Howell said. He tried to form his own league there without success and then someone suggested he look at Greenport as a home for the annual islandwide tournament.

Greenport school officials — then Dr. Charles Kozora and now his successor, Superintendent Michael Comanda — welcomed them to use the Greenport fields.

The rest, as they say, is history.

High school teams pay $425 to participate while the older club teams pony up $650. Much of the money goes to fund scholarships at various high schools in both counties. Greenport nets $2,000 in lacrosse scholarships. The Nassau Police Athletic League, which has become a partner with the foundation, gets $3,000 for its youth programs, and a lot goes to a bridge program that pays for lacrosse equipment in areas where students might otherwise not be able to afford to play the game, Mr. Howell said.

Businesses such as Claudio’s and Soundview Inn have played a major role in welcoming the league, Police Athletic League liaison George McLaren said.

Organizers and fans get to make the last weekend each July a mini-vacation in Greenport, Mr. Howell said.

“This place is beautiful and the people are all so friendly,” he said. His only regret is that he didn’t buy a house here when he first discovered the village. That was before prices skyrocketed, he said.

“This is absolutely gorgeous,” Mr. McLaren agreed.

What both men like about lacrosse is that everyone gets to play and have fun.

“It’s low-key and they’re just having a good time,” Mr. McLaren said.

If you didn’t get to Greenport for this weekend’s tournament, book your dates for next year, because the lacrosse players will be back on the fields July 27 and 28, 2012.

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