Youth Boys Lacrosse wins league championship, bids farewell to long-time coaches

| 20 Jun 2019 | 10:18

By Laurie Gordon
Last week, the eighth grade Kittatinny Youth Lacrosse boys team prevailed in a nail biter of a game to become the 2019 NJJLL A (North Jersey Junior Lacrosse League) division Champions for the first time in program history.
“They did it,” said coach Bob Mangino, “It was the game of a lifetime ending in 11 to 10. We scored with four seconds left after being down seven goals at one time.”
It was a gallant ending to a long spring of practices and games. The season started in February in a round, uplifted structure floored with AstroTurf in Mount Olive. Kittatinny families made the 45 minute trip every Sunday to the Marauder Dome so that their kids could get a jump on the upcoming lacrosse season. Coaches volunteered their afternoons and evenings and in the inner sanctums of the rotunda, the 2019 Kittatinny Youth Lacrosse season got its start. As the weather improved, practices moved to fields in Stillwater and eventually games began. Games were held all over the area, some on turf, some in the rain and mud and some in the scorching sun. The parents and players didn't mind the conditions: they go with lacrosse and often, adverse conditions help define a team's tenacity.
A note that struck the hearts of the players and parents this season was that there will be a changing of the guard with many of the coaches and board members for 2020. Spring 2019 lax was a sayonara to a number of them who have, for years, volunteered their time.
“Most of us have been there for five to seven years,” Mangino said. “I feel fantastic with what we have accomplished to build this program and being a part of it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. The program has come a long way and is in strong financial shape. It's ready to move on with new people and new ideas.”
One of those new people is Jeff Lobb who has three sons currently in the program (Oakley in first grade and Cooper in third grade and Greyson in fifth grade). His oldest son, Joe, went through the program and is now playing lacrosse at Misericordia University where he is a sophomore.
“Every year coaching starts off with some new faces and then those returning smiles,” Lobb said, “It's amazing to watch those who return and how they’ve grown since the year before (as a player and as a young man). The newbies are always the wildcard but the challenge to teach, train and coach them up. This group of kids came together, game after game, just getting better and playing a little bit harder.”
“Today was bittersweet and the end to our 3/4 season (a very successful season),” he said at the last game of the season. “However its the beginning of the plan for next year and how to level up the game plan from this past year. The coaches never stop thinking about how to get the best out of each and every player. Our Coaches this year have been stellar and proud to work with each of them. The parents support and participation was second to none. They are always flexible and having our kids ready to roll.”
Now, as the new Board President, Lobb is excited to carry on this program that has become a Kittatinny tradition.
Lacrosse is a timeless game dating back to the 17th century. Originally known as "stickball," lacrosse was first played by Native American Indians, and stickball events went on for several days bringing in hundreds of thousands of players. Early lacrosse players were said to take on the role of warriors bringing honor to their tribes with a victory. These warriors in the United States were mainly found on the east coast. Lacrosse is now considered one of the fastest growing sports throughout the country. Locally, John Major and Bob Jellinek formed Kittatinny Lacrosse in 2007 as a means to provide training and competition for boys and girls in third through eight grade for the Kittatinny Regional High School District.
“Bob and I had grown up in Maplewood and Summit where every kid had a stick in hand,” Major said.
When the men met when their daughters joined Hampton Rec. Soccer, these two dads embarked on a mission to bring lacrosse to Kittatinny. With a small band of interested parties joining their cause, the initial sign up brought in 40 players to make up two teams, one consisting of fourth, fifth and sixth grade and a seventh and eighth grade team. These players became known as “the Originals.”
The team continued to grow, and since the founders have daughters, the time came to start a girls team in 2009. In just two years, Kittatinny Lacrosse had gone from two teams to eight full teams. Over the past 10 years, the program has seen hundreds of kids pass through learning the many physical and mental positives of the sport of lacrosse.
At the end of the season, a Braveheart Award is presented to an eighth grade girl and boy. Skyler Kunkle and Chris Casale, were the winners of the club's prestigious Braveheart.
“This award goes to a player that demonstrates commitment to the team, sportsmanship and determination,” said Maureen Riva, a coach of the girls's team. “When Jeff Shottwell (the other team coach) and I brought up the award, we both simultaneously said the same name. Skyler embodies what this award is all about.”
“I'm so excited to have won this award,” Kunkle said. “I love lacrosse and can't wait to play in high school.”
“She'd get really upset if practice got cancelled because of the weather,” said her father, Brian Kunkle. “She was always dressed and ready to go and loved both the practices and the games.”
“Chris is just that player who deserves the Braveheart,” Mangino said. “He demonstrates hard work, determination and sportsmanship. He's a positive role model and completely coach-able.”
Board members who will be staying include Art O'Toole who will remain the Boys Program Director. Jim Cantelmo will become the Girls Program Director, transitioning from having been the Stillwater Rep. Chris Shotwel will remain as equipment director. The program bids a fond adieu to founder/coach John Major, out-going president/coachy, Mangino, out-going vice-president/coachy, Jeff Shotwell, outgoing secretary/coach, Maureen Riva, outgoing yearbook coordinator, Michele Sealander, and outgoing fund-raising coordinator Hilary Manser.
“We 'd love to see this program continue to grow with more participation from the entire Kittatinny sending district,” Mangino said.
During the tenure of these coaches and board members, they have promoted teamwork and encouraged their athletes to strategize, train and score together. They've seen friendships on the field transfer to friendships off the field.
“Onward and upward to our Cougars 'til next year when we battle again,” Lobb said. “Together as a team and as lacrosse family.”