UW-L alumni help revive lacrosse in La Crosse

UW-L alum Keith Weaver coaches lacrosse

Keith Weaver, UW-L alum and lacrosse coach, demonstrates a move in lacrosse practice held at Holmen High School

Lacrosse is making a come back in the City of La Crosse and two UW-La Crosse Alumni are part of the reason.

Keith Weaver, ‘05, and Chris Bell, ‘06, are head coach and assistant coach respectively of a new lacrosse team, La Crosse Lightning, representing students from seven area high schools.

“It’s rewarding to teach this next generation of kids and grow that same passion that I feel for the game,” says Weaver.

Weaver and Bell started playing lacrosse in college as members of the UW-L Lacrosse Club. They heard about the game from friends living in Hutchison Hall and felt “peer pressure” to join, jokes Weaver. But the game involving sticks, nets and heavy-duty hand-eye coordination quickly became an addiction.

“I’d say I picked it up pretty quick, but nine years later I’m still picking up new skills while trying to teach these high school kids,” explains Weaver.

It’s a big transition from playing to coaching, notes Bell.

“There’s been a few games where I wish I could put on the pads and get out on the field,” he admits.

But they’re excited for the team, which is growing rapidly. La Crosse Lightning formed last spring with 18 players after Kristen Breitzman, of Onalaska, and her son, Nolan, noticed a void in contact sports offered in the spring. They pulled together the team and this year the roster has more than doubled.

Likewise, UW-L’s Lacrosse Club is growing. The team formed in the 1970s, disbanded and emerged again in the 1990s, says David Zakem, UW-L student and club president.

In Zakem’s five years with the team he has watched it grow from 12 players to 30 today.

“We are getting a lot more kids who’ve played in high school and at younger ages and they want to keep playing,” he notes.

Breitzman says they challenged last year’s high school players to ask a friend to join, and it worked.

“Once these kids get a stick in their hand, they’re addicted,” she says.

Players describe the sport as a mix of hockey, basketball, soccer and football.

“I love it — the fast play, the physicality, the finesse — all the things you can do with the stick. It’s like an extension of yourself,” said Brady Welvaert, 16, a member of Lightning.

Weaver says coaching brings him back to his college years and how he too grew to love the game.

“Now I’m 28, in the working world and married with two kids. It’s nice to have that nostalgia to go out and play,” he says. “It kind of makes me wish I had the opportunity to play in high school.”

Did you know? The City of La Crosse is named after the lacrosse game, which was played here by American Indians.