By MADDY VITALE
OCEAN CITY – There’s a new camp offered in Ocean City for kids who want to learn how to play lacrosse, and from the looks of the first week of it, there are some stars in the making.
Ocean City resident Laura Wheeler opened Jr. Raiders Lacrosse Camp this summer – this past Monday, actually. The camp for grades first through sixth runs through Thursday. Lacrosse clinics are already planned for the fall.
Before Wheeler opened the camp, the only option for kids in Ocean City and the surrounding area to learn how to play lacrosse at the elementary level was through a rec program in Upper Township.
“We want to give kids the opportunity to learn the sport at a young age and be able to participate on a team on the island,” Wheeler said.
Children, including several from the Downbeach area, are participating in the camp.
In between playing time at Palmer Field on Wednesday, camper Liam Kane, 7, of Ocean City, had this to say about how he liked the camp so far, “It’s awesome.”
Jaxson Picinich, 11, of Upper Township, said, “Best camp ever.”
Jacob Wilson, an Ocean City High School 2022 graduate who will be attending Rowan University in the fall, played lacrosse, football and wrestled in high school. He is one of several volunteer coaches, including current OCHS students who play on the lacrosse team.
“I think it is really amazing,” Wilson, 18, said of the new camp. “The community has been really supportive of Miss Wheeler starting the camp. I had to travel to play for Upper Township when I was young.”
Laura Wheeler played soccer, softball and basketball in school. Her husband, Rich Wheeler, coaches football and wrestling for the private rec program, which is different than the city’s recreation program. The couple came up with the idea for the lacrosse camp together.
Their two sons, Jack, 11, and Ryan, 9, are participating in the Jr. Raiders Lacrosse Camp. The hope is that the interest in it will be enough to create a Jr. Raiders Lacrosse team.
“Sports are really important to our family,” Wheeler said. “We just want to give back. A lot of kids need this sport.”
Wheeler is hoping that Jr. Raiders Lacrosse Camp could join one of two leagues, either the Jersey Shore Youth Lacrosse League or South Jersey Youth Lacrosse League. While the camp is for kids up to sixth grade, Wheeler said when a team is created it will be open to kids through eighth grade.
Some volunteer coaches, in addition to Wilson, have been giving the young players some advice on technique. In total, 16 campers signed on for the four-day camp.
Volunteer coach, Mason Afanador, 15, plays lacrosse for OCHS and is from Upper Township. He said he was happy to lend a hand with coaching.
“I want to help to make sure these kids can play lacrosse,” he said.
The other coaches are Scott O’Connor, an Ocean City summer resident who plays for Manhattan College, and James Picinich, an OCHS student, who plans to play lacrosse next spring.
Earlier this week, campers got a special treat. Professional lacrosse player Bryce Young, of Egg Harbor Township, from the Whipsnakes, coached the young players.
Wheeler has big plans for the lacrosse players. She formed a nonprofit called the Ocean City Lacrosse and Soccer Club. The goal is to have enough volunteer coaches for not just lacrosse but soccer.
“I established the camp as a fundraiser for my players,” she said. “The city also has been generous. Ocean City has a team for every sport. We just want to join the rest of the rec teams.”
For more information, visit the Facebook page for the Ocean City Raiders Youth Lacrosse Club or email Laura Wheeler firstname.lastname@example.org.