Canal Winchester lacrosse is on the rise

By Rick Palsgrove
Eastside Editor

Photo courtesy of CW Lacrosse Association
Canal Winchester’s Ryan Steinbrink (right) battles a Bexley player during a boys middle school lacrosse game last spring.

Lacrosse, one of the nation’s fastest growing sports in America, is also gaining momentum in Canal Winchester.

According to Victor Paini, president of the Canal Winchester Lacrosse Association, lacrosse began in Canal Winchester in 2015 with a Learn to Play program through the Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District. In 2016, teams for third and fourth graders as well as fifth and sixth graders began. By 2017, a seventh and eighth grade team played scrimmage games around Columbus

“The Canal Winchester Lacrosse Association was started in the summer or 2017 by myself, Joe Malone, Kevin Nickerson, Wendy Rohaly and Jennifer Beckwith,” said Paini. “At the end of the 2017 season, it was evident the middle school program needed dedicated coaches and more administrative oversight, so the CWLA was formed.”

Paini said the CWLA serves as a club lacrosse program for players in grades 7-12 who are aging out of the CWJRD program with the goal of building a program that could eventually be “handed over” to the school district as an official letter sport.

“At that time, the CWLA would remain as a booster club to help support and sustain the lacrosse program,” said Paini.

What is lacrosse?
“Lacrosse is the oldest and fastest growing sport in North America,” said CWLA Vice President Joe Malone. “It’s believed the sport originated around a 1,000 years ago and was played by many different  Native American tribes.”

The term “lacrosse” comes from early French settlers who saw the Huron playing and the stick reminded them of “la Crosse” the French term for a shepherd’s hook.

Malone said modern lacrosse is played on a field roughly the size of a football field. Boys play with 10 players and girls with 12. The goal is 6 by 6 feet and is defended by a goalie. The ball is made of hard rubber and is slightly smaller than a baseball.

“The boys game involves a lot of contact and checking, but is generally controlled and not overly aggressive,” said Malone. “Traditionally the boys and girls play on their own teams and by their own rules. The girl’s game puts more emphasis on finesse and less on contact. Each sport has its own set of rules and equipment guidelines.”

The fun of lacrosse
Kevin Nickerson of the CWLA said lacrosse encourages team play while also supporting individual creativity.

“Lacrosse is an excellent crossover sport, combining many aspects of basketball, soccer, hockey and football,” said Nickerson. “Jim Naismith, who created the game of basketball, was a lacrosse player and used concepts from lacrosse when developing basketball. Football greats like Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick grew up on the lacrosse field and translated those skills to football. The combination of multiple sports is what makes the sport so inviting. No matter your athletic background you’ll bring a skill that directly translates to lacrosse.”

Nickerson said lacrosse is rooted in its Native American tradition and is driven by the motto “Honor The Game.”

“Players, parents and coaches are encouraged to respect each other, their opponents and officials,” said Nickerson. “This is the most important aspect of the game. Lacrosse is not a sport that can be dominated by an individual. Teamwork is key to success and helps form lasting friendships.”

Lacrosse in Canal Winchester
Home games and practices are divided between two locations. The CWJRD third/fourth grade teams play behind the elementary schools on Gender Road while the fifth/sixth team is at the middle school with the CWLA Middle School Team.

“There are discussions about field locations for the 2019 season,” said Nickerson. “We hope to locate all the teams at one location as many families have younger and older players on multiple teams.”

The CWLA played 16 games between mid-March and mid-May, including four games at the State Middle School Tournament. Practices began in late February. For the 2019 season CWLA is working with a local athletic facility to secure indoor space and those indoor practices begin in mid-January, according to Jenn Beckwith of the CWLA.

Malone said, for the 2019 season, the CWLA will have a co-ed middle school and co-ed high school team.

“We anticipate between 20 and 25 players per team and 2019 will also be the first time the city has seen a dedicated girl’s lacrosse opportunity,” said Malone. “The CWLA hosts a girl’s Learn to Play program open to all ages. Our goal is to field girls’ teams in 2020 if we have enough interest.”

The CWLA plays other school club teams as well as OHSAA sanctioned school teams around central Ohio, said Nickerson.

The CWLA is a 501c3 non-profit organization funded primarily through player registration fees. In 2018 there were a handful of small financial donors that helped.

“We also had a few groups that donated supplies or helped with food for the end of season picnic,” said Wendy Rohaly of the CWLA.
Nickerson said the CWLA is currently an independent club sport not affiliated with the schools.

“We are responsible for all of the field, referees, and legal costs as well as uniforms and field equipment,” said Nickerson.

“Our vision is that our program evolves into a fully sanctioned school sport,” said Paini. “Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the nation – across all age groups and new programs continue to start from recreation programs to NCAA programs. We’re partnering with Canal Winchester Schools to build a program that can be transitioned from club status to school status. They have been supportive of our vision as we strive to demonstrate this is a sport the students and families are interested in.”

How to join and costs
Registration for all 2019 CWLA programs is open and can be completed by visiting and looking under the “Registration Info” menu.

“As a club sport we are open to all communities – no experience required,” said Beckwith. “Our co-ed middle and high school teams play by boy’s rules and need full equipment including a helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, stick, colored mouth guard and protective cup. New players can apply for a set of CWLA loaner gear or there are places like Play-It-Again Sports have reasonably priced used gear.”

The cost is $230 for middle school lacrosse and $235 for high school lacrosse, which includes a U.S. Lacrosse membership. The Girls Learn to Play is $50 including a U.S. Lacrosse Membership. For information email

Future of lacrosse in CW
“We’re getting tremendous support from the U.S. Lacrosse Association as evident by the thousands of dollars in equipment given to our program via U.S. Lacrosse grants, said Paini. “The lacrosse community is a supportive community and we get support and advice from the Ohio Machine, the Central Ohio Youth Lacrosse League and other established programs. We’ve grown from 12 players our first year to what I expect to be close to or over 100 lacrosse players next spring across all of our lacrosse offerings – and that was in just a few short years. The future is bright for the lacrosse in Canal Winchester and I’m excited about where we’re headed as a program.”

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