Doverdale lacrosse effort building positive relationships

Judge Matt Maciarello, Police Chief Barbar Duncan and Officer John DiMare gather for a group photo with a group of Doverdale youngsters who are forming relationships with saftey and law enforcement leaders while also learning the sport of lacrosse.

The way Wicomico County Circuit Court Judge Matt Maciarello remembers it, his son Luke had a lacrosse stick in his hands before he shook a baby rattle.

The game has been important to the Maciarello family for years.

“We’ve been a Fruitland Falcons family and now a Parkside Lacrosse family. Our oldest is on the Parkside Lacrosse team. It has been part of our lives for 16 years. Luke, our youngest, is involved with peewee coaching for some of the children. He works with them on shooting, passing — basic skills he has developed. He is one of the main volunteers. My wife is involved, too,” Maciarello said.

He, too, has long enjoyed the sport and wanted to share it with children in the Doverdale neighborhood.

“This idea started two years ago, when there was all the discussion about juvenile issues and curfews,” said Maciarello, who, at the time, was state’s attorney for Wicomico County and one of the people working on solving problems involving Salisbury juveniles.

In the planning phase, leading to the launch of the team in March, he and Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan visited the basketball court at Doverdale Park on Johnson Street and asked the children if they ever considered lacrosse.

“I said, ‘In my opinion, if you play lacrosse it’s going to translate very well to basketball and vice versa.’ Some of them were interested but others were on the fence. Then people showed up. The building opened. By the end of the first day we had 11 kids. They went out on the field, catching and throwing. We didn’t know how excited these kids would be,” he said.

“It’s a neighborhood team, which is unique. All the other teams, the parents drive their kids to the field, but this is a neighborhood team. It’s very unique and it’s very special. They represent Doverdale. We wanted to create a feeder force for the high school in that area so that when they got to high school that coach could accept these kids into their program,” Maciarello said.

“One of the things I knew was coaching and mentoring, the value of sports and how you can learn so much. You are staying active. You are learning a sport that can keep you active and engaged throughout your life. It teaches kids the values of perseverance, of teamwork, of sportsmanship, of integrity. All these things I have relied on in my life. A lot of these came from coaches I had,” Maciarello said.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m., about 20 children in sixth to eighth grades learn fundamentals — passing, throwing, shooting, cradling.

Although lacrosse can be expensive, there is no cost for the Doverdale players, who use equipment provided by the city.

“Yes, we budgeted for that last year and we bought the equipment,” Mayor Jake Day said.

“The way to get involved and serve kids is through youth athletics. It’s a good way to connect good role models like our judge and like our police officers directly with kids who need good role models. That’s the intent. That’s what we’re hoping to establish,” Day said.

Most of the young players had never handled a lacrosse stick and certainly had no idea about the basics. They hadn’t even been to a game. But now Maciarello is seeing growing confidence, laughter, fun and discipline.

Novice players have to earn the right to take sticks home, based on their behavior and performance at practice. Players were invited to Salisbury University to see a game and, at halftime, were introduced as the Doverdale Hawks, the name they chose for themselves.

“We had 34 kids on the waiting list. There were only 20 slots, but even after the 20, kids were waiting. There seems to be real appreciation on the part of these kids,” said Maciarello, who praised Duncan, Day and Mark Thompson, who works for the Wicomico County Board of Education, for their involvement.

As they help to coach and mentor, police officers are building a connection with the boys, Duncan told the Salisbury Independent.

“We talk to them about conflict resolution. Engagement always happens. They are curious and willing to learn,” she said.

All four of her and her husband’s sons have played lacrosse and one helps to coach, she said, crediting Maciarello and the city for their participation. Soon, a girls’ team will be formed.

“They are great kids just looking for an outlet,” Day said.

“The judge has had this idea for a long time. We are proud of our involvement and especially proud to have this team,” he said.

Salisbury Officer Erica Brightbell helps a youngster suit up for lacrosse practive in Doverdale.

County Executive Bob Culver said when he was first approached by Maciarello, “I was proud that the county could be a part of it.”

“The Recreation and Parks Department has made itself available to help with its success. A youth program such as this is vital for the neighborhood residents and especially its youth. I’m glad we could support this community effort,” Culver said.

Thompson secured a bus to transport the players from their school, Wicomico Middle, to SU and is tracking their attendance and grades in connection with the lacrosse program.

“It’s very uncommon to see African-American kids playing lacrosse. Basketball is the common game. For basketball, all you need is the ball and there are rims around everywhere. These kids are usually not exposed to lacrosse, field hockey, golf. But Matt took that creative gamble. He put it out here and they came,” Thompson said.

“I said, and my family said, we’re going to volunteer,” Maciarello said.

“We’re going to get this off the ground. The chief and her family are very involved. The chief is always out there. There were a couple of us just saying, in our small way, we want to bring a program out there to do what we can. Even if it’s only for 20 — and we do have the equipment for 15 girls, but we wanted to make sure we launched in a successful way for the boys,” he said.

The city donated a building at the playground where 20 bins of equipment are stored. Each boy is responsible for his own equipment and keeping it in good order.

“There is value there. We wanted to show these kids what lacrosse really looked like,” Maciarello said.

“It’s incredible to see the dynamics,” Thompson added.

“When you see older kids on the basketball court, they’re smoking and everything. The younger kids have looked up to them. But now the older kids are looking toward the younger kids, to see what they are doing,” Thompson said.

“We need to give our children opportunities like this, and opportunities to be in positive leadership roles. It’s pretty amazing to see them.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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