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Klahowya Secondary School lacrosse program built on Hall of Fame foundation
Behind an elementary school on a quiet ball field, about 60 lacrosse sticks poked the sky.
When the post-practice huddle broke, players scattered and two Hall of Fame coaches emerged.
“We like it here because there’s a lot of space,” said Klahowya Secondary School boys lacrosse coach Rob Hawley. “We’re not in anybody’s way.”
The grass outside Silverdale Elementary School is being put to use as Klahowya’s lacrosse program flourishes under Hawley and girls coach Laurie Usher, both of whom belong to the Washington State Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Despite the fact the club sport isn’t sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, more and more athletes are turning out for lacrosse at Klahowya — and finding success on the field.
After attracting an average of 20 athletes the past few years, the girls team now boasts a 38-player roster, made up of students from Klahowya, Central Kitsap High School, and Central Kitsap and Ridgetop junior high schools. The boys team has 32 players, including 12 freshmen.
“It’s an opportunity for them to be active, be involved after school, stay out of trouble and have fun,” said Usher, who won three consecutive state championships between 1994 and 1996 at Bainbridge Island.
Most of the players at Klahowya were new to the sport when they joined the lacrosse program. Some had participated in different spring athletic activities and wanted a change, others had never played any sport and wanted to get involved.
Klahowya junior Nehemiah Salo, a football player and wrestler, turned out for lacrosse after getting cut from the baseball team. The home-school student was drawn to the physical nature of the sport and didn’t want to sit on the sideline for the spring season.
“It sounded fun to go around and whack people with a stick,” he said.
Three years later, Salo is the starting goalkeeper on a boys team that is 10-1 and bound for the playoffs. He originally was a midfielder, but when the team’s starting goalkeeper graduated, the Eagles needed a replacement.
Salo volunteered, though he had never tended a goal.
Now he works one-on-one with Hawley during each practice and is getting more comfortable in front of the net.
“I’ve learned everything I know about lacrosse from coach Hawley,” Salo said. “I didn’t know anything about the sport before I met him.”
Teaching athletes about a sport many don’t fully understand — or follow — is part of what makes the job gratifying for Hawley and Usher.
Usher, a native of Pennsylvania who grew up watching and playing lacrosse, treats many of her athletes like an artist would a blank canvas. She teaches the fundamentals and encourage her players to buy into the team concept.
“They don’t have to be a star,” she said. “They just need to be a contributor and be involved and be dedicated.”
Hawley, a 1985 Harvard University graduate who was an All-American in 1982 and 1984, came to Klahowya by way of the private Lakeside School of Seattle. He coached eight seasons there, winning a state title in 1993 and reaching the finals five other times.
The Baltimore, Md., native arrived to Klahowya nine years ago and built the lacrosse program from scratch. Also a math and science classroom teacher, he wanted his move from Lakeside to involve both teaching and coaching.
“Wherever I went I was going to be sure that, selfishly, it was part of what I was going to be able to do,” he said. “When I came here and there was no lacrosse to be coached, I had to make it happen.”
The boys team belongs to the Washington High School Boy’s Lacrosse Association Division II and will host a state-tournament game for the first time May 15. The league is divided into Division I and II, with 20 teams playing D-I and 29 playing D-II.
The girls’ league also is separated into two divisions, with Klahowya belonging to the second division.
Usher and Hawley agreed the goal of any program is to reach Division-I status. Regardless of when or if that happens, their emphasis will continue to be on teaching the game and encouraging their players to stay involved, no matter their skill level.
“To see these kids who have never picked up a lacrosse stick before, to be able to cradle and shoot and talk the lingo and want to take their stick with them on the ferry and sleep with it and walk around school with it, it’s pretty cool,” Usher said.