Sergio Pelayo wasn’t convinced it was going to work.
It was the summer of 2018, and the fledgling Lake Stevens Lacrosse Club, which had just been spun off from the Snohomish Boys Lacrosse Club, was trying to get itself off the ground. Despite having no infrastructure in place. Despite having just five players upon which to call.
And Pelayo, a lacrosse standout who was then headed into his junior year at Lake Stevens High School, was skeptical.
”Honestly, I really didn’t think we were even going to be able to field a team,” said Pelayo, now a senior midfielder who will be playing next season at Colorado Mesa University. “There’s no way, I don’t see us fielding a team come spring.”
Fast forward a year-and-a-half and the Lake Stevens Lacrosse Club is thriving. Practices for the spring season began this week, and Lake Stevens has seen its participation numbers jump to more than 80 players, allowing the club to field boys teams across all age levels.
And it’s all because of a grassroots effort, led largely by the parents of those original five players, who believed in lacrosse as a sport.
In the past, players from Lake Stevens played for Snohomish. However, the Washington High School Boys Lacrosse Association, which is trying to develop the sport to the point where there’s a team associated with every high school, mandated that the Lake Stevens boys break away from Snohomish — girls lacrosse is under a different governing body and girls from Lake Stevens are still allowed to play for Snohomish.
“It was legitimately starting from scratch,” club board president Robert Gerber said. “It was really challenging because Lake Stevens is known as a football community. Here’s a sport that’s asking for athletes, and people didn’t really know a lot about it.”
Even with Lake Stevens just fielding a high school team its first season, it still had just five players come over from Snohomish: Pelayo, Quil Cupples, Byron Gerber, Koal Greenwood and Colton Ream.
Greenwood and Ream have graduated, leaving Pelayo, Cupples and Gerber as the members of the original five still playing.
Jesse Wolfe, a former Snohomish standout with coaching experience at Meadowdale and Woodinville, was hired as the high school coach.
“I had mixed emotions about it,” Byron Gerber, a sophomore at Washington Virtual Academy and the high school team’s goalie, said about having to leave Snohomish. “I was sad because I was losing all these friends who I had gotten to know, but I was also excited to meet some new guys and get a fresh start.”
Lake Stevens had a lot of work to do to field a full team. A lacrosse team has 10 players on the field at a time. A team can get by with about 15 players, but ideally has more like 20. So the five original players started putting the hard sell on their friends and classmates. Meanwhile, the players were taking part in fundraisers about every other week as the club tried to raise money for equipment and field rentals.
By the time the 2019 spring high school season arrived Lake Stevens had 18 players, which was enough to field a team. However, about half those players had never played lacrosse before, so there was a lot of teaching of the basics.
It helped having a player like Pelayo on board.
“Sergio is the kind of kid that you want in that situation,” Wolfe said. “He has all the skills, but he wants to share the ball. That’s a huge factor when you have someone who’s a college-level talent playing with a group of kids new to the sport, but he’s still giving the time to everyone else to make sure those kids know he wants them to be better, because that’s going to make the team better.”
Lake Stevens ended up doing better than anyone expected, even its own players. Lake Stevens is part of the 12-team Wesco, which is divided into an upper division and a lower division. Lake Stevens, playing in the lower division, finished 3-4 in league play and 4-8 overall.
While Lake Stevens considered its first high school season a success, the next step in the process had to be implemented, and that was beginning a youth program. The youth teams were set to start play in year two, meaning Wolfe and the board had to make their pitches to the parents of younger players who they hoped would become the foundation of the program.
Those efforts paid off. As of the middle of last week, Lake Stevens had 88 players registered for the spring season, and teams have been formed for every age level: kindergarten-through-second grade, third-fourth, fifth-sixth, seventh-eighth and high school. While there are no girls teams in Lake Stevens Lacrosse yet, the club is open to adding girls squads.
The club believes things are only getting started.
“From all the experiences I’ve had in lacrosse, this definitely has a lot of staying power,” Wolfe said. “I was at Woodinville, which is one of the biggest programs in the state, and the way things have gone here in the club’s infancy makes me think we’re going to be there at some point. It’s just a matter of how fast, rather than if the club stays around.”
And those who have been a part of the process from the beginning are thrilled with the foundation that’s being laid.
“It’s been awesome,” Pelayo said about being part of building a new club. “I started with Snohomish, and I always wanted Lake Stevens to get a club, but I never thought it would happen during my career. I’m honored to be part of it. The Lake Stevens community has given so much to me, whether it’s in football, track or lacrosse, and it’s helped make me the player I am today. It’s a super special opportunity to give back to the sport and to the community.
“I look forward to seeing the sport grow in Lake Stevens.”
If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at email@example.com.