By Jim Rueda
---- — MANKATO — File this one under the category of "timing is everything."
For a few years now, Ben Keist of the Community Education/Recreation Department has been looking for a way drum up interest in youth lacrosse in the Mankato Area. After last summer he contacted the local lacrosse association to see if they had any ideas.
It was about the same time that Julian McFarlane of Jamie Kunst of the Mankato Area Lacrosse Association were looking to do exactly the same thing. The three got together and now the push is on to start an organized youth lacrosse effort in the community.
"We came up with the idea to offer a few clinics through our summer Mankato ACES program," said Keist. "They stop by our sites every Monday through the month of July exposing the kids to the sport of lacrosse."
ACES is a school-age child care program offered to pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade aged kids throughout the summer. The goal is to provide age appropriate activities that help the participants grow. ACES activities range from computer labs to field trips, to gym time to group games, to art projects to reading, math and now — lacrosse.
"It just seemed like a natural fit," said Andrea Stein, the ACES coordinator for CE/RD. "I was looking at it from a health-benefit standpoint and it seems to be working well. The kids really love it."
Kunst and McFarlane, along with a number of adult volunteers from the Mankato high school boys and girls club teams, teach the game to the youngsters during two 45-minute sessions throughout the month. The sites include Garfield, Roosevelt, Hoover, Kennedy and the largest one at Rosa Parks elementary schools.
McFarlane, who hails from the metro area, said his kids were exposed to lacrosse at a young age while growing up in the Twin Cities. When he moved to Mankato he was surprised at the dearth of lacrosse opportunities.
"I wasn't shocked that the high school and college teams were struggling to get a foothold in Mankato," he said. "But I WAS shocked that there was absolutely no youth program in place. Our goal is to get that up and running so kids have more options as they get older."
Kunst is a Mankato native who grew up playing a lot of hockey. When he got to college at Minnesota State he realized his hockey days were over and decided to give lacrosse a try.
"I walked out to practice and there were a lot of former hockey players there," he said. "I had a great time playing in college and I kind of wish I could have had a chance to play it when I was younger."
To that end, Kunst and McFarlane enlisted the help of MSU and Mankato high school and college alumni to kick-start the clinics. They also received a $1,000 donation of equipment from Gopher Sports in Owatonna, through the help of salesmen Taber Sawatky (a Mankato native) and Tom Breuer (an MSU lacrosse alumnus) that ensured all the kids could participate.
When the clinics are done at the end of the July, CE/RD and the Mankato Area Lacrosse Association will offer an introductory three-day camp. It will be open to kids in grades K-7 for two hour blocks each day.
The camp will teach all aspects of the sport — passing, catching, cradling, face-offs and the basic rules of the game. The co-ed program is designed for the beginner so everyone is welcome to register at www.mankatocer.com.
"It's been well-received by the kids so far," said Stein. "I like it because it gets the kids running around outside and having fun. That's one of the main goals of our ACES program."
For more information on the ACES program or the Mankato Lacrosse Association, call 507-387-5501.