LEOMINSTER -- A glimpse at the high school teams will let you know that lacrosse is growing in the Leominster area, but the biggest growth is taking place in the youth ranks.
Three Leominster Youth Lacrosse players achieved one of the biggest honors for a young player, as they earned spots in the Lacrosse Festival Tournament at the World Lacrosse Championships, which will take place July 10-19 in Denver.
The trio will be part of the Mass. Bay Colonial teams, a composite group of the best players and leaders for their age group in the sport in Central and Eastern Massachusetts.
Two eighth-graders made the U15 team, as Johnny Doherty and Jack Cordio will represent Leominster after their eighth-grade team made it all the way to the state semifinals earlier in the month. Doherty is a defensive long pole, while Cordio is a multi-threat midfielder. Cam Reirden is the lone representative to make the U13 squad, and is a versatile midfielder.
Leominster Youth Lacrosse nominated five athletes for the honor, then the nominees had to take part in a series of tryouts, held in Eastern Mass. It was a competitive process as the Massachusetts Bay Youth Lacrosse League, of which Leominster is a member, has 150 towns in its jurisdiction and 250 teams in each age group level. Only 22 players made it for each age division and Triology Lacrosse had the final say in the teams' formation.
"There were over 5,000 kids eligible to try out for this team," Leominster Youth Lacrosse President Larry Cordio said. "Out of those 5,000, the individual towns and regional directors drilled it down to 125 kids, and out of those 125 they picked 22 to move on.
"A lot of it was about character of the child -- lacrosse is a gentleman's game of respect, honor and tradition -- and these kids had to show that part of the game, up and above the talent. That's how we selected kids to represent Mass. Bay Youth Lacrosse, to be gentlemen and stewards of the game, and then their ability came in as a second phase to that."
Both Jack Cordio and Doherty were members of the very first Leominster Youth Lacrosse teams when the program began in the city four year ago. Back then there were just four teams and 60 players. Now, as the duo prepares to move on to the high school level, the league has seen phenomenal growth, boasting 12 teams more than 190 players.
In addition to being a feeder program for Leominster High, the youth program also serves students who will compete at Fitchburg High, Lunenburg High and Monty Tech.
"It's huge for lacrosse in Central Mass.," eighth-grade Leominster youth coach Mike Fratturelli said of the program's expansion. "It's perceived that there is a gap between Eastern Mass., because people see the disparity in high schools. In terms of skill level at the youth level, Central Mass. is catching up to the Eastern Mass. teams. It showed with our success this year, and having these players make this team."
Jack Cordio and Doherty picked up the game pretty quickly at a young age, and now find themselves as elite-level players. The outlook looks good for both of them as they make the jump to high school next season and look to compete for a spot on varsity.
"I'll never forget when (Doherty) came out for the team," Fratturelli said. "I gave him a long pole during one-on-one drills and told him to not let the kid pick up the ground ball, and the kid just went with it for the next four years, an absolute ferocious player. (Jack Cordio) is the same way, but just much better with a short pole offensively, and he's a natural athlete and great two-way player."
Reirden is the lone Leominster member of the U13 Mass. Bay Colonial team. He has been a standout player from the start, his coaches say, and is also possibly that age group's most versatile player with the ability to play an assortment of positions. Reirden already has a good deal of experience playing for elite select teams under his belt, even though he is only in the sixth grade.
"He's a great little player and really has respect for the game," Leominster Youth Lacrosse coach Steve Jackson said. "He can see the ball really well, with a great sense of the game. He's a non-selfish player, but is also a really good player and can score when he gets the ball. Here's one of those few kids in the pipeline that can play pretty much anywhere if I needed him to."