Brownsburg Lacrosse Continues to Grow
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Growing up in the Midwest, Jason Koles was introduced to the traditional sports like basketball and baseball. It wasn’t until college that his best friend, who had grown up on the east coast, introduced him to the game of lacrosse. Though Koles never engaged in the sport himself, he often watched his friend play.
Years later, Koles and his wife Angie were living in North Carolina with their children Harrison and Delaney. When Harrison was in fourth grade, he was at a baseball practice when he spotted kids on an adjacent field playing a different sport. Intrigued, he asked what it was. Turns out, it was lacrosse. Koles signed up Harrison for a free clinic and he was immediately hooked.
“He put on a helmet, held a stick, and 45 minutes later he said, ‘I want to do this,’” Koles recalls. The passion only grew from there, not just for Harrison, but also for the entire family, when the following year they moved to Brownsburg, Angie’s hometown. When Koles found out that the closest place to play lacrosse was in Zionsville, an idea began to percolate in his mind about starting a lacrosse program in Hendricks County. He figured that if his children liked it, others might too.
Koles signed up for a training class offered though USA Lacrosse. In the summer of 2013 he launched Brownsburg Lacrosse. He spent a great deal of time networking with the Indianapolis lacrosse community, building a network of people who were both encouraging and supportive of his endeavor. Another portion of time was spent simply spreading the word that Brownsburg Lacrosse existed, including distributing fliers at the Brownsburg Fourth of July parade.
Koles planned several free clinics in order to introduce area kids to the sport. One day a senior at Brownsburg High School (BHS) named Austin Martin contacted Koles and told him he wanted to start a lacrosse club at the high school. He wondered if Koles would be willing to help him.
“Now all of a sudden I was a youth lacrosse organization as well as a high school lacrosse organization,” Koles says. He was at once excited and a little overwhelmed, given that he didn’t have adequate resources to pull it all off. Thankfully, a legion of volunteers stepped up to help including John Doss, a Brownsburg native who had played lacrosse at a California college and was interested in helping to get the sport going back at home. Doss started out coaching the seventh- and eighth-graders. The following year he moved on to become the high school varsity coach.
“John has been my right-hand man for the past seven years,” Koles says.
During the first year of the program, 71 boys signed up. The following year they added a girls youth lacrosse program, which Delaney joined. She still plays and is now a junior at BHS. The league kept growing, and in 2018 they reached their peak at 170 athletes across grades 5 through 12. Numbers subsequently dropped to 145 as all sports programs took a hit due to the pandemic.
Lacrosse, the oldest sport in North America that was originally played by Native Americans, is most similar to basketball or hockey. Defense is similar to basketball, where players try to stay between the person they’re guarding and the goal. It’s played on a field about the size of a soccer field. There are, however, stark differences to other sports.
“You’ve got this stick with a ball and you’re trying to catch and throw it around while running up and down the field,” Koles says. “You’ve got to keep that ball in your stick, and gravity is not your friend. It’s not like soccer where the ball is on the ground. In lacrosse, if the ball hits the ground, that’s a problem.”
Though some skills in lacrosse are similar to the throwing and catching motions of baseball or football, skills like cradling or scooping ground balls are unique to lacrosse.
“Lots of new kids struggle with that, so you’ve got to get kids to be accepting of failure early on with this sport and help them understand that they’re going to drop the ball, because it’s difficult and that’s OK,” Koles says.
He maintains that the best part of the game is that it provides opportunities for all different body types.
“Generally, kids who are smaller and quicker gravitate towards being on the offensive end of the field, and the bigger-in-stature kids play on the defensive end,” he says. “Kids in the middle play both offense and defense, so athletes who like to run all day play both ends of the field.”
Also, in lacrosse nobody serves as a benchwarmer. He suspects the reason so many children gravitate towards the sport is the game’s exciting nature.
“There’s nonstop action,” Koles says. “That’s why it’s called the fastest game on two feet.”
Girls and boys lacrosse have different rules. On the boys side, athletes bang into one another with their sticks. Therefore, they wear pads and helmets. Girls do not wear pads and helmets, though they do wear goggles to protect their eyes.
The youth season is quite short with teams starting practice in early March, then playing 10 to 12 games and finishing up the weekend before Memorial Day. The high school season is slightly longer and includes 15 to 18 games.
Even now, nine years after Koles started the league, a large portion of the community doesn’t know it exists. That’s why the free clinics are so important. Offered several times throughout the summer, they introduce students to the sport and teach them the fundamentals of the game. A camp is also offered in the fall that the high school coaches run.
In the last couple of years, Brownsburg Lacrosse’s primary sponsor has been Kevin Kerzee with Farmers Insurance. The Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds also gives them free space for meetings and practices. Plus, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation, St. Malachy Catholic Church and Cornerstone Christian Church have all been great partners by providing them with field space. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can reach out to Koles.
Koles recently received a note from a mom following her son’s graduation. In it she mentioned that the lacrosse program instilled in her son that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.
“When I read that letter it hit me that I started this league so my kid had a place to play lacrosse, but as a result, hundreds of other kids in the community have been able to play,” Koles says. “I’m proud of the organization we built. I couldn’t have done it without the help of all these people around me. Maybe surrounding areas like Danville or Pittsboro will want to start a program, and I want them to know that it’s possible. There’s support out there to help provide these opportunities for kids.”
To learn more about Brownsburg Lacrosse, follow them on social media, email Koles at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to their distribution list, or visit brownsburglacrosse.com.