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Lacrosse: Greenport hosts festival of fun

For one weekend of the year, Greenport is the lacrosse capital of Long Island. This past weekend was that weekend.

The 24th annual lacrosse festival known as the Greenport Shootout transformed Greenport High School into a mini-lacrosse city. Six fields accommodated 72 teams for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, which drew between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors, according to Mike Nelson, vice president of the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Foundation. Altogether, about 1,440 players participated.

“It’s more fun than anything else,” Nelson said. “I look forward to this event every year.”

The LIMLF and Nassau County Police Athletic League sponsor the tournament, which raises money for scholarships that go to two Greenport High School seniors (this year $1,500 scholarships went to Toni Esposito and Jack Webster). Some of the proceeds are appropriated for the Jill Howell Fund, which supports other charities and special needs for Nassau County PAL, said Nelson.

Two of the founders of the tournament were Harvey Cohen and Jimmy Howell. Cohen died a year and a half ago. Howell is battling health issues, said Nelson. “Our hearts are definitely with them,” he said. “Last year was our first year without Harvey. This year is our first year without Jimmy. They’re both on the Mount Rushmore of lacrosse.”

The name of the game of the Greenport Shootout is fun. It doesn’t have playoffs or championship games. Teams played three 40-minute games amid a festive setting, with tents set up near the fields and retractable safety nets providing protection from wayward balls.

“In lacrosse, you’re one or two people away from knowing everybody,” said Craig Papach, who coached the Macarthur Generals in the boys junior varsity division. “It’s really a reunion. It’s a party.”

Players may feel pressure in some tournaments that are showcases for college recruiters, with playoffs and championships. This one, though, is different.

“This is just like for fun,” said Jameson Willey, 15, of Southampton, who played attack for the South Fork Lacrosse JV team. “Since we’re a newer program, it’s helping us build it.”

One can watch an open men’s division game on one field, a JV boys game on another field and a third-grade girls contest on yet another. The players come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from incoming third-graders to 30-year-old athletes.

“It’s the ultimate end-of-the-year tournament,” Nelson said. “It’s a feel-good thing.”

On sun-splashed Sunday morning, one of the most colorful teams in action was the Jesters, a sixth-grade girls team with a uniform lit by vibrant colors.

“I had fun with my team, and we played really hard this tournament, so it was good,” said Brianna Wendling, 12, of Bethpage, who played midfield for the Jesters. She continued: “Each tournament we practice harder. We have to work harder to win the games, but if we win or lose, it’s still a lot of fun.”

Her coach, Peter Scavone, sees the value in it for the development of his players. “It gets them more experience, playing other teams,” he said. “It helps them when they go back to their town team. We’re just trying to get them to develop to be good high school players eventually.”

Game officials enjoy the surroundings, too. Before taking the field for the first of six games he planned to work on Sunday, Danny Haas, a board member of the Nassau County Women’s Lacrosse Officials Association, said he’s a fan of the location. “I like coming out here,” he said. “I like Greenport. We know the winery set up and farms and everything else.”

South Fork Lacrosse coach Matt Babb, who had played in the Greenport Shootout as a player, plans to return.

“It was just great being here,” he said after his team’s final game. “I can’t wait to come back next year.”

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Photo caption: Lacrosse players of various shapes and sizes took part in the 24th annual Greenport Shootout this past weekend. (Credit: Bob Liepa)