Franklin lacrosse club growing stronger by the day
Seeking formal status from the school
"Put a stick in a kid's hands and he'll never put it down."
The mantra that Franklin lacrosse guru Eric Fernandes likes to repeat has some basis in fact.
Since starting the Franklin Lacrosse Club four years ago Fernandes, with help from some dedicated parents and volunteers, has grown the sport at the school from just 24 boys and one junior varsity squad at the start to more than 140 boys in fifth grade through high school and 45 girls in sixth grade through a first-year high school junior varsity squad. They are in the midst of their spring season right now.
They even have a small, dedicated fan base that supports them at their games at the Milwaukee County Sports Complex.
"There are about 80 of them (fans) and they can get pretty loud," said Fernandes' son Jake, a senior co-captain and four-year "founding father" of the boys varsity team. The sport is a full family matter to the Fernandes clan as mom Susan is the program administrator and treasurer.
These Sabers play in the Classic 8 Conference (most of Franklin's other sports are in the Southeast Conference) and have other affiliations and rivalries, but Fernandes would like to be able to give the athletes athletic letters at the end of the season.
They're trying to jump through all the hoops and even have a plan to donate $5,000 to the school's new stadium project (the sport's field has roughly the same dimensions as a football field). The club has donated $2,000 of that money already.
"We have club status, we're just trying to get a little more recognition," said Eric Fernandes. "Get it to the point where the kids can say they earned a letter. Something they can put on their college applications. I understand budgets. We're just trying to get things started the right way. We're looking to be considered (for formal sponsored status) by 2016, though we would like it sooner if possible."
Athletic Director Sara Unertl said "it's a process" to get formal recognition and the school board will look at many facets when making its evaluation.
On the positive side, there are already plans to put hash lines on the field for the sport for both the boys and girls' teams.
Unertl said another positive is the start of the girls' program this spring as Title IX compliance (gender equality in sports).
In the meantime, Eric Fernandes will continue to pound the pavement looking for more players and coaches. He works with the Wisconsin Lacrosse Federation, and he said there is a need for more certified coaches.
Fernandes even helped the Franklin Recreation Department win a grant for a youth program.
His love for the sport grew early as he is a native of northern Virginia, where in some areas, the sport is like a religion. Its roots are legendary as the earliest settlers on the continent observed Native Americans playing the game, sometimes with hundreds on a side at a time.
Fernandes calls the sport a combination of hockey, soccer, basketball and football.
"It has something from all of them," he said. "It has the speed of hockey, the physicality of football, the passing and cutting of basketball and the endurance required from soccer."
Players play four, 12-minute quarters, use long sticks called "a crosse" to carry, pass and shoot a small rubber ball (five ounces) into a net past a goalie. The players wear helmets, shoulder pads and other protective gear. There is limited checking.
Eric Fernandes said players can be adequately outfitted for about $225-$250.
There are 10 players to a side, including three attackmen, who are limited to the offensive side of the field, three defensemen who are limited to that side of the field and three midfielders who can roam the entire field. There is also a goalie who guards a six foot high by six foot wide goal.
A major selling point Eric Fernandes has used to sell the sport is that size doesn't really matter.
"Some of the best players in college are not very big," he said. "If they can run and find space they can be successful. We have gotten a lot of guys who have been cut from other sports and they have found success here."
An interesting note with the Franklin program, is exactly who has found success. They include several prominent members of the Sabers' state finalist football team from last fall, including NOW All-Suburban selection Jared Karow (defensive back in football and co-captain of the lacrosse team) as well as Jake Fernandes (linebacker in football and also a co-captain of the lacrosse team).
Like Jake Fernandes, Karow is also a founding father of the team, having been there all four years.
When asked if it seemed like almost every member of Franklin's award-winning football defense was on the lacrosse team, Jake Fernandes just laughed.
"It's funny," he said, "but there is just a core group of guys who have come over and like the game. Jared (Karow) started in the eighth grade. We played in Brookfield as kids (because the program in Franklin hadn't started yet) and then we just recruited our friends. It's just one of those things you pick up in the backyard, in the neighborhood.
"It was something that got turned into a full-time thing. I'll always thank Dad for giving me the ability to play. It's a lot of work, but it's so fun to watch. It's just cool to see the family effort and now we're seeing younger kids fall in love with the game, too."
And the current players are trying to build up the support for the game inside the school.
"We know we're definitely a niche sport right now," Jake Fernandes said. "It's not a game you see all the time (though it is occasionally on ESPN), but people notice, especially when you wear the (Franklin Lacrosse) sweatshirt. If we could get that support from the school that would really cement it for the future, give it a whole other level of status."
Jake Fernandes has an appointment to the Naval Academy in Maryland where he hopes to join its high-level club lacrosse team. He wants to major in mechanical or weapons' systems engineering.
He knows that after he graduates this spring, the sport will still be in good hands.
"I'm happy that we're building a legacy here," he said.
One kid, one stick at a time.
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