Redmond players continue to play hard despite struggling to win contests

When Aaron Henry was a sophomore at Redmond Proficiency Academy he was looking for a new sport to try.

One day, Henry saw an announcement posted on the board recruiting individuals to play for the Redmond lacrosse team. Henry decided to give the game a try and almost immediately he was hooked.

“It was pretty much a mixture of every sport,” he said. “You have the fast pace like soccer and play never stops. The substitution style is kind of like hockey where if a player wants to substitute they just go out there and play and it has some aspects like football, which I never really got to play, where you get to be rough and hit people.”

Although Henry lives in Prineville, competing for Redmond was no problem since lacrosse is still a club sport rather than an OSAA sanctioned sport.

During his sophomore year, Redmond struggled to compete, playing a mixed JV and varsity schedule.

“We were kind of stuck in the middle,”?he said. “We could beat most of the JV teams, but we would lose pretty much all of our varsity games.”

“They were competing hard, we just didn’t have the numbers that Summit and Bend had,” added Jeff Stevens, one of the Redmond Lacrosse Clubs parent advisors. “By the end of the game we were dying, but they were still going as hard as they could.”

Henry’s junior year the team still struggled to win games. However, with more numbers in the program, the team finally played a full varsity schedule, winning just one game during the season.Photo Credit: PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY WANDA HENRY - Aaron Henry, a midfielder for the Redmond Panthers stands ready to play during their league season this spring. Henry lives in Crook County, but played for Redmond because Crook County doesn't have a lacrosse team.

“We had some really wonderful times,” said Stevens. “Sometimes we lost 20-1, but not once did they ever hang their heads down and feel bad. They were out there to play and have fun and at the end of this year we were competing at a much higher level because the seniors had experience. They loved the game so much that the score didn’t matter. That says it all about lacrosse. When you see kids that are just playing their hearts out and they don’t even care what the score is.”

Most of the players that Henry played with began their lacrosse career as freshmen. As a result, they all had one more year of experience than he had. Still Henry said that the team welcomed him with open arms.

Henry quickly caught on to the game, and became a starter at midfield for the Redmond squad. Fellow midfielder Kyler Stevens took most of the face offs to start games and after goals, while the two players built a strong bond.

“Aaron is a great kid,” Jeff Stevens said. “We carpooled him and took him to games. He really blossomed as a player too.”

Both Kyler Stevens and Henry became strong enough players that by the end of their senior year they were named honorable mention all-league despite the team’s unimpressive record. Stevens liked the game well enough that he gave up a promising career in baseball to switch to lacrosse, while Henry switched from track and field.

The two memories that Henry said he will take with him from the sport are the game this year with Ridgeview, who had a startup program, and an annual tournament in Sisters.

“It was the first time Ridgeview had a team and it was a big rivalry,” he said. “And the annual Sisters Lacrosse Invitational is one of the biggest on the West Coast so every year that was really awesome. You’ve got tons of teams and you get to play all day.”

Henry noted that one of the best things about the game is how quickly a player can pick up enough skills to begin playing.

“If you have played another sport before it’s a pretty easy transition,”?he said. “It’s mostly getting used to the running aspects. You have to learn stick skills at that point, but the rules are pretty easy to pick up and you can work at it for three weeks and have good enough stick skills to play.”

Still, although you can pick up enough stick skills to play relatively quickly, it takes years to master the sport.

“What I?would say is give a kid a stick and a ball,” Stevens said. “What better combination. You can throw the ball 50 to 60 miles an hour — no problem — and you can catch and run. It’s such a physical game and you don’t have to be big.”

Still speed, athleticism and skill matter. Neither Redmond nor Prineville have a youth lacrosse program, while Bend has been offering lacrosse through the park and recreation district for several years.

“Bend and Summit have more kids to draw from,”?Stevens said. “They have been playing since fourth grade because they play in their park and rec program.”

By contrast most of Redmond’s players have not even seen the game until they tried out for the team.

Add to that the Bend schools have more coaches, more equipment, and more support from the school district — although that is changing.

However, the gap is gradually closing. Both Summit and Bend have helped Redmond with coaching and equipment.

“The other teams, like Bend and Summit, have been so supportive,” Stevens said. “The Summit team has given us equipment and coaching time and they have been so supportive.”

In addition, last year for the first time lacrosse went from a non-sanctioned club sport to a sanctioned club sport at Redmond High School. The team was given a new and better field to play on and was able to build a new equipment shed.

In addition, Dustin Williams, one of Redmond’s assistant football coaches, was recently named the new lacrosse coach.

Stevens believes that although it is too late for the seniors on this year’s squad, the changes are going to pay big dividends for the program in the future.

“We had a new athletic director this year and he was very pro lacrosse,”?Stevens said. “And Williams being an assistant football coach, that’s going to be such a huge thing. It’s not that the football folks haven’t been supportive, but they haven’t done much to push their kids into lacrosse.”

With the new coach, Stevens believes that will change.

“It’s a great offseason conditioning program,” he said. “And we kept telling them that the best lacrosse player ever was Jim Brown, and guess what, he was a pretty darned good football player too.”

Even though the season has been over for months now, most of last year’s senior class continues to play lacrosse. The former players are meeting whenever possible on Sunday afternoon with current players to practice.

“Most of the seniors are showing up periodically,” Stevens said. “My guess is that they will end up having scrimmages and it will end up being a Sunday game that will be fun and will help recruit players.”

Lacrosse is exploding in popularity in Oregon. Just 10 years ago, basically no one had heard of the game. Now Redmond competes in a 20-team league. With youth programs sprouting up all around the state, the number of teams is likely to continue to grow.

Wanda Henry, Aaron’s mother, is just as passionate about the game as both Stevens and her son.

“After five children, 16 years, and 10 different sports, this was my favorite sport to watch,” she said. “What a great way to end our high school sporting experience.”

“The game is very fresh,” Aaron Henry said. “If you don’t like playing a lot of other sports, you should still give it a try.”

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