Transplant Rachel Hillhouse has a plan for growing girls’ lacrosse in her adopted hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. Having played the game throughout her youth in Victor, New York, she realized upon her arrival in Western North Carolina 10 years ago that lacrosse opportunities for girls were pretty scarce.
“I know all the benefits of being involved with the game, and in this area, the girls’ game is anywhere from five to 10 years behind the development of the boys’ game,” Hillhouse said.
Hillhouse began by joining the local board for the Western North Carolina Chapter of US Lacrosse. She also serves as a USL Coaches Education Level 1 and Level 2 trainer, helping to support the certification of coaches.
And three years ago, when her daughter Sophie, four-years-old at the time, wanted to start playing, Rachel established Asheville Edge Lacrosse. Serving girls ages 4 to 18, Asheville Edge is dedicated to providing a fun environment for players through club teams and events.
Hillhouse says that there are currently about 50 girls, across all ages, in the program.
“We’re still trying to find out what works best, but we are committed to sticking to the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model,” she said. “It’s about empowering girls and helping them to develop their skills in a positive environment.”
As an extension of the Asheville Edge program, Hillhouse is also connected to a grass roots project aimed at bringing both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse into local schools. She’s convinced that introducing the game to kids in school is the first step before connecting them to a community program.
Hillhouse initially partnered with another local lacrosse leader, Melissa Ciocian of the Asheville Empire Lacrosse Club, to leverage their contacts and conduct after-school lacrosse clinics and occasional physical education class lessons. Given the challenges to the sustainability of that model – Hillhouse and Ciocian also have full-time jobs – they now work with US Lacrosse to host workshops for local P.E. teachers.
Lou Corsetti, Southeast Region Manager for US Lacrosse, recently joined Hillhouse as a workshop trainer. The two-hour clinic, the first step in Hillhouse’s growth blueprint, included 54 physical education teachers from the Buncombe County (N.C.) School District.
She has targeted schools in Asheville city and in adjacent Henderson County as the next steps in the plan.
“Rachel is the Pied Piper going around the region to introduce lacrosse in schools,” Corsetti said. “She is very well connected in the area.”
With US Lacrosse funding, four schools represented at the recent P.E. workshop were awarded soft stick grants, providing soft sticks and balls for use in physical education classes. Teachers are also provided with lesson plans to help teach the unit.
Debbie Bryant, coordinator of healthful living for Buncombe County Schools, oversees the K-12 physical education curriculum and says that lacrosse is a welcome addition.
“It’s been really popular, and girls especially are taking to it,” Bryant said. “We try to broaden horizons with new sports, so it has been very beneficial.”
Corsetti notes that there’s only been one drawback to the soft stick initiative in his region.
“Our budget has been depleted,” Corsetti said. “Right now, we’re having to turn people away or put them on a waiting list.”
Corsetti has coordinated over 75 US Lacrosse soft stick grants to schools and organizations in the Southeast region over the past 18 months, with recipients in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
“We’re hoping to find more money because we can use all of it,” he said. “Even $10,000 goes a long way. This is the right strategy to grow the game.”
There’s no dispute from Hillhouse on that point.
“The key is to teach the P.E. teachers the game,” she said. “I know the kids get excited about trying something new. We then try to follow-up to let them know that if they like it, there are opportunities to get more involved.”