Franklin Academy coach Chris Yaw (center) instructs young students during the third club lacrosse practice of the season at Leo Cahill Field in Malone. The Malone Central School District ran one club season prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evan Wheaton/Malone Telegram

MALONE – Locked away in the basement of the Malone middle school building was a pile of equipment.

Plastic bags filled with green and white pinnies, Maverik Spider lacrosse sticks, balls, helmets, gloves — all tucked away in the dark.

The 2020 winter postseason was underway. Soon, it’d be time for the supplies to see daylight again. Sunflowers, rising from below for spring once more.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world outside those walls, dust settled on all the gear. Waiting, hibernating after just one season of use.

Said gear was acquired through a $15,000 grant from Adirondack for Kids, given to Franklin Academy coach Chris Yaw through the school. It was the start of something new. And it was about the numbers.

“We didn’t get the best gear because I was trying to get the best bang for our buck to get the most kids to be able to play,” Yaw said.

Prior to the pandemic, the Malone Central School District was in the infant stages of starting a lacrosse program. With the eventual goal of forming varsity teams, the foundation had to be laid first.

It all started when then-athletic director Eileen Kilcullen decided to move forward with the idea by getting the club program underway. The ambition was to develop the feeder system first, get the buy-in from young student-athletes and potentially work with surrounding districts.

“What the plan of action was, was three years of club program, and the fourth year start working in a modified program,” Athletic Director Joey Santamoor said. “There was discussion with Chateaugay with Eileen and their athletic director to possibly have Chateaugay run a girls program, and we run a boys program, and have a merger between the schools for lacrosse.”

The talks didn’t get far. As the world changed in the wake of the coronavirus, so did plans to grow lacrosse in Malone.

“We were supposed to have modified last year,” Yaw said. “Last year was going to be our second year of club to make sure the desire to play and stick with it was there.”

There certainly was a desire among students. The initial sign ups for club lacrosse in Malone garnered 85 names on a wait list in 45 minutes. The year before Kilcullen left, the district had its first full club season.

Malone was on track, and Kilcullen was on board with trying to implement a modified program the following year before the pandemic struck.

“It went awesome. Great publicity, great participation, it was just pretty awesome,” Yaw said.

Practices were held four days a week. Students had bus transportation and were able to use the locker rooms. The ball was rolling, and the Malone Central School District backed the club to the fullest.

“And that’s what really made it work, all the school’s support,” Yaw said.

Yaw’s son, Cobi, was in seventh grade when club lacrosse was first offered at Franklin Academy. Cobi played in Potsdam’s youth lax program during his fourth, fifth and sixth grade years. Yaw helped coach Potsdam during that time before.

Cobi played during the first club season in Malone. Yaw looked forward to having Cobi be a part of what he was building in Malone.

“I’m a little bummed because he’s a ninth grader, he would’ve been able to play on the first modified team of Malone,” Yaw said.

And they are, for now. The first steps have been made since before all spring sports were shut down across the nation in 2020. As of the April 19 statewide start date for spring sports in New York, club lacrosse practices are underway in Malone.

With roughly 50 students registered to play, the first practices of the spring have been held at Leo Cahill Field. Students grades three through five take the field Mondays and Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. while the older group — grades six through nine — practice Wednesdays and Thursdays 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The rec park is helping us out with providing them with field use and setting up student signups,” Santamoor said. “They can only have so many students at one time per the regulations of New York State.”

Plattsburgh is the only high school in Section 7 that has a lacrosse program, so it competes with Section 10 schools. The closest competition for the Hornets is Salmon River — 62 miles away in Fort Covington.

Plattsburgh is where Malone aspires to be – a relatively new program that went through the process, made the necessary steps to build a foundation before the pandemic.

“Two years ago was (Plattsburgh’s) first real season, and they struggled,” Yaw said of the Hornets’ 2-12 campaign. “They really struggled, but they got to play and they learned the sport.”

Santamoor wants to take a closer, undivided look at lacrosse in the coming months. Between the fluid COVID-19 situation, the impending vote on the Malone Central School District capital project and putting together a spring season – there’s too much in the immediate future.

This time next year – after much conversation has been had – Malone may see its first modified lacrosse program.

“My goal is to approach this at the end of the school year, discuss it with the superintendent, with Chateaugay and then with our boards,” Santamoor said. “I want to be able to give full attention to building the program. I don’t want it to slip through the cracks.”

Now that the feeder system is being reestablished, Malone isn’t far from its goal. Young kids growing up with the sport may eventually find varsity competition through Franklin Academy.

And they’d be built up for it, even if they have to take their lumps first. But the buy-in from students is there, and it can be witnessed on a socially-distanced Leo Cahill Field four days a week.

“I really want to see the club go so we can regain that momentum we had a couple years ago,” Yaw said.

While the sun sets over the first live practices in two years, that momentum is shaking off the dust.

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