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Bearing his Crosse
When Dan Zelazek moved from the midwest to the Pacific northwest five years ago, the Chicago native never envisioned that lacrosse would be devoid from his livelihood.
Zelazek, a teacher at Marcus Whitman Junior High, has worked countless hours over the past two years to give local junior high and high school students an opportunity to experience the glory of a sport that was so good to him during his college playing days for clubs at Eastern Illinois University and Bowling Green.
After a rough startup year last year (only eight players), Zelazek currently has 24 high school players, along with six junior high apprentices.
The majority of players attend South Kitsap, but five hail from Peninsula High.
Because Lacrosse is a club sport not sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, Zelazek can pool players from further south in the county, since the sport isnt offered in Gig Harbor.
Because it is a club sport, funding comes directly out of the pockets of Zelazek and his players.
Ive spent a lot out of my own pocket, but its all worth it, Zelazek said. The guys have had to pay their own money for equipment and dues.
Despite the expense to the kids, Zelazek said a group of about 16 players has proved their dedication to the season.
The turnout this year was huge, he said. Last year we were lucky to have eight guys. Now we have a whole bunch of guys.
Seventh and eighth graders are not allowed to participate in games until they are freshmen, but they can practice with the team as much as they want.
Zelazek said getting kids started at the junior high level will pay huge dividends once they are eligible to play.
The first couple years will be rough, but when theyre freshmen theyll be able to step right in there, he said.
Because there is no direct affiliation to one particular high school, the team is called the Kitsap Wolves.
There are 30 high school club lacrosse teams in the state, and the Kitsap Wolves will be part of a league that includes North Kitsap, Klahowya, Curtis, Vashon, Issaquah and Franklin.
The teams in Washington state are split into three divisions. The top division includes teams such as Bainbridge Island and Mercer Island, which have dominated the sport over the years.
There will be a second division, and the Wolves will play this year in the third division. Each division will have state playoffs with the championship being played at Seahawks stadium.
Zelazek said its important to start at the lowest division but doesnt anticipate staying there longer than this year.
I think were going to surprise some people this year, he said. This year well be back at the lowest run of the divisions but were looking to move up.
With only seven seniors this year, Zelazek said he can easily see a bright future for the sport in Port Orchard.
Leading the way to the Wolves success is junior Victor Rybachuck.
Zelazek said Rybachuck is talented enough to earn a college scholarship somewhere.
Its just a matter of getting exposed, which is tough to do in the northwest.
Lacrosse is extremely popular back east and in the midwest, but is slowly gaining acceptance in the west. California is the only state in the west that currently sanctions lacrosse as a high school sport.
Zelazek said there is no other sport that combines a bigger variety of sports onto one playing field.
Lacrosse is a combination of soccer, basketball, hockey and football.
This is a great sport for football players and wrestlers because it helps with their footwork, Zelazek said. Speed is big, but you have to be smart like in basketball. You have to pick your plays, you have have your head up, and you have to see the whole field so you can see whos open.
Zelazek said hes always trying to sell the sport, but the real selling point is when athletes try out the sport for the first few times.
Whats not to love, he said. Youre hustling up and down the field, youre making hits, youre hitting people, and youre getting hit.
Now Zelazek just hopes its a hit in Port Orchard.