Antonio Bolarinho grew up playing youth lacrosse in Scituate. Mike Maggiacomo played in seventh and eighth grade. Sam Adamo, a hockey and tennis player, used to play catch in the yard with his brother.
That was about as far as their lacrosse careers could go.
As students at Pilgrim High School, they were the odd men out. Toll Gate and Warwick Vets field ever-growing boys’ teams. Pilgrim and Warwick Vets have girls’ teams that are among the largest athletic programs in the schools.
Pilgrim boys never had a chance.
This spring, that’s changing.
Thanks to the efforts of several students and coach Erik Stachurski, plus the support of administration, Pilgrim has a club lacrosse team on the field this year, with hopes of bumping to varsity and a spot in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League next year.
For the 21 players donning Pilgrim’s black and white for the first time, it’s been a welcome opportunity.
“It’s been awesome,” said Bolarinho, a junior. “I came from a different town, moved here to Pilgrim and there was no program. We tried getting it going last year, and here we are. I’m glad we finally have one.”
Lacrosse became a Rhode Island Interscholastic League sport in 2001. That year, there were five boys’ teams and four girls’ teams. In 2014, there are 30 boys’ teams and 31 girls’ teams.
That expansion has mirrored the sport’s growth at every level. Warwick PAL’s youth lacrosse program has doubled in size since it started. This spring, for the first time, it has more players than Warwick PAL’s Babe Ruth baseball league.
Stachurski runs PAL’s program and had always envisioned a Pilgrim boys’ program as the next step for lacrosse in the city.
“This is something I’ve always thought about,” Stachurski said. “I’ve been involved with Warwick PAL for years. We had some great athletes come through PAL, who never had a chance to play in high school because they went to Pilgrim, and Pilgrim didn’t have a team.”
When Adamo was a freshman, there were rumblings. Pilgrim’s girls’ lacrosse program was getting off the ground and would soar immediately. It made the Division III championship game last year.
But a boys’ program wasn’t in the cards.
“Freshman year, there were some of us who thought there was potential to have a team but I guess it wasn’t a good time for the school,” Adamo said. “This year, it just came together.”
With interest growing – and more and more players with youth lacrosse experience coming into the school – Adamo sent an email to Stachurski.
“It started with an email last year,” Stachurski said. “Sam Adamo said ‘I’ve got kids. They want to play. Are you willing to step up?’”
With the blessing of athletic director Nick DiFilippo and the school, Stachurski and a dedicated group of players led the effort to create a club team. They held sign-ups and meetings, coordinated schedules, raised money – and now they’re playing lacrosse.
“Even though I’m a senior, it’s good to see a program get started and know it’s going to be around,” Adamo said. “Coach Stachurski came to us and really brought it off the ground. We wouldn’t have a team if it wasn’t for him. He’s donated his time, his money. He’s really gone all the way for us.”
Pilgrim had a blueprint to follow. The Toll Gate boys and the Warwick Vets girls were the city’s first lacrosse teams, and both took their first steps as club programs before joining the RIIL in 2005. The Warwick Vets boys, who joined the RIIL in 2009, also started as a club team.
Pilgrim’s foray has been fun, but certainly not easy.
“It’s not just about going out and playing,” Stachurski said. “We pay for everything. We bought our own jerseys, we pay for referees, we pay bus costs. Hopefully that dedication shows and this is the beginning of a good thing.”
Stachurski lined up a 12-game schedule of mostly RIIL opponents, some from the JV ranks and others from varsity. Weather has forced some shuffling, but the Patriots have played five games so far, including their first rivalry match-up against Toll Gate on Friday. The Titans won that game 12-5, but Pilgrim does own a victory over Chariho’s varsity squad.
“It’s the same thing I’ve been doing with youth – it’s all about growing,” Stachurski said. “As long as they can hang, learn it, enjoy it and build it into next year, what’s the downside? It’s a great group of kids and they’re working hard.”
Twenty-one players are on the roster. A few came through the youth ranks with Warwick PAL, but most are just giving it a shot, excited for the opportunity to try something new.
“It’s only going to get better,” said Maggiacomo, a senior captain.
Seniors like Adamo and Maggiacomo will never get the chance to play in a varsity game but they’re proud to be part of the foundation, the team that will make Pilgrim’s lacrosse future possible.
“I think we’ll come back here in two or three years and see a really competitive varsity team,” Adamo said. “We have the kids, we have Warwick PAL. If you get them started freshman year, by the time they’re seniors, they’ll be in great shape.”
Pilgrim will still have to cross its T’s and dot its I’s as it tries to make the jump to varsity next year, but it’s all systems go so far.
“My hope is we build on this next year and keep going,” Stachurski said. “It’s going to go to the school committee. You have a girls program, you have the other two boys programs. I think the key is hitting and maintaining the numbers. My hope is I would like to see us be part of the RIIL next year.”
If all goes according to plan, the odd men out will be right where they want to be.
“I can’t wait until next year,” said Bolarinho.