A year ago the presence of the pandemic meant the Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends events came at us mostly through our computer screens.
This year, it’s back to the real deal with some modifications for health and safety.
That means 14 free sports clinics for ages 5 and up will take place June 10-23 at the Sanford Sports Complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The addition of rugby and lacrosse to the Legends clinics demonstrates the increasing popularity of both activities – as well as Sanford’s commitment to providing access to athletic expertise in a variety of sports.
“We’re always trying to expand the number of young athletes we can reach through Legends programming,” said Jesse Smith, vice president of operations for the Sanford Sports Complex. “Adding two new sports opens the door to a new pool of athletes that we haven’t had out here too often in the past.”
These two first-time appearances come with committed community support and an emerging level of interest from kids in the region.
Lacrosse has 88 players signed up for a YMCA rec league offered for the first time this spring and more than 30 involved in competitive travel teams. Rugby, which is introducing the sport to ages 6-to-10 for the first time this spring, had more than 60 high school-aged kids playing the sport prior to the pandemic and close to 20 participating in a middle school program.
Youth rugby lets kids ‘try something new’
Pat Foley is the president of the Sioux Falls Lacrosse Association. Pat Artz is director of Dakota United Rugby. With help from fellow coaches and athletes, each will be explaining their sport to kids, many of whom will be hearing about it and seeing it up close for the first time.
Though no one would mistake one of these sports for the other, their messages will bear many similarities. Lacrosse and rugby are both accessible to kids of all sizes and talents. They both depend on and encourage teamwork. They both promote traditional values associated with sports participation.
And, to hear their supporters tell it, they’re both a lot of fun.
“Sometimes you have to try something new,” Artz said. “You never know what you’re going to like in life. The nice thing about youth is that there are so many options. Not every sport is for every person but you have the opportunity to at least give it a try to see whether or not it’s something that interests you, challenges you and develops you. They’re all things that youth need in order to become a responsible adult.”
Artz, who has tutored some of his high school players to help them gain entrance to college, serves up a broad version of the sport and its culture within the program.
“Developing to become better adults – that’s my job,” Artz said. “Part of that is helping out in the community. It’s one of our core principles – how can we get better at it?”
The Dakota United director is working his way down, so to speak, as a rugby coach. He started at the elite levels, then coached it in college, then high school and is now focused on the youngsters.
“I’ve slowly realized the amount of inclusiveness required at the grassroots level in order for rugby to fully develop as a legitimate sport,” he said. “I’ve realized now that I’m best serving rugby by helping the growth of the sport with youth.”
Youth lacrosse finds ‘place for everybody’
Foley is doing the same by establishing a rec youth lacrosse program at the Sioux Falls YMCA.
“There’s a place for everybody on a lacrosse field,” Foley said. “You don’t have to be the fastest kid, you don’t have to be the strongest kid. You can be of any level of athletic ability.”
Foley’s pitch to kids begins with lacrosse being a fast-paced game. There is not a lot of standing around unlike some other sports.
“If you like a fast-paced team sport, lacrosse this is for you” Foley said. “Lacrosse has a little bit of hockey and soccer skill set but with much more scoring opportunities.”
By joining the Legends schedule of events, lacrosse and rugby are available to more boys and girls who are interested in athletics. For a pair of sports emerging in popularity, it’s an important step.
“It’s a great opportunity for lacrosse to get more awareness in Sioux Falls,” Foley said. “I hear from parents and kids that they didn’t know Sioux Falls had lacrosse program. We’re creating awareness by being able to put our name to a big stage at Legends for Kids.”
Adding sports to the Legends lineup is much more the rule than the exception. In recent years, gymnastics, wrestling and hockey have been added with a total of $2.575 million raised for youth sports since 2005.
Expansion of the Sanford Sports Complex, inspired by a $300 million donation from Denny Sanford announced in March, will enable the event to continue to accommodate more young athletes and provide increased facilities for sports options throughout the year.
“Since our inception we’ve been really busy from November through April and then we used to have a lag period where there weren’t as many people on our campus,” Smith said. “Now that we’ll be offering playing space for baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby, we’ll be having year-round activity. We’re going to be just as busy in the summer as we are in the winter. That’s exciting for us and it’s exciting for the community.”
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