HARTFORD — The sixth graders at the school in Hartford loved handball, and their physical education teacher casually dropped that if they liked handball, did he have another sport for them.
Six years later, seven of those sixth graders were on the roster of the Capital Prep/Classical team that played the first varsity boys lacrosse home game in program history.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” senior Nahzeer Henry said.
Henry is one of those seven students, who are now among the 13 seniors on the Trailblazers’ first full-varsity team, which defeated Suffield/Windsor Locks 9-4 to improve to 4-0 Thursday.
“Just growing up with these guys, being able to play sixth to 12th grade,” senior Marcus Henderson said, “we’ve really created a family, a bond.”
Lee Mascolo, that class’ teacher, said he told the students he’d coach lacrosse with them in the spring if they got 15 students to sign up.
“They got 25,” Mascolo said. “We’re a really small school. That was pretty much every boy in fifth and sixth grade.”
Michael Gary of Inner City Lacrosse helped arrange equipment. Annual fundraising parties have helped fund the program.
“After Year 1, that group, the next year we had two teams, U14 and U12,” Mascolo said.
When that group got to the high school in 2018, they played a junior varsity schedule. They played mostly JV in 2019 with a few varsity games as well.
The pandemic cost them last season (and forced the youth program to suspend operations, which could be a blow going forward), but they’re off to a good start this year, playing a schedule against which they should be competitive with a handful of tough ones mixed in.
They’ve come a long way from their first scrimmage, a blowout loss to Windsor, 10-1 as they remembered.
“We didn’t know too much about the game,” Henry said.
But in that same year, they rattled off seven wins in a row, “thanks to hard work,” Henry said, “dedication to the game.”
They found ways to bring skills from other sports to lacrosse.
Henderson thought the team took a big jump in eighth grade, then again as it transitioned into high school, and it had to do so once more this year.
The season began with three road games, including an 11-3 win over Wilbur Cross at Bowen Field in New Haven on April 20.
“What they’re doing with the program is great,” Governors coach John Acquavita said; the teams will meet again in Hartford in a couple of weeks. “With city kids, when you build that kind of relationship over time in a game that they never played, it’s a good feeling when it kind of comes together.”
Every senior is going to college, Mascolo said. Rodriguez is going to play at American International, and Rick O’Neil will play at Eastern Connecticut.
A couple of other Trailblazers will play other sports in college, and a couple of past players are playing college lacrosse.
“Every kid on the team is a multi-sport athlete, which is pretty cool out of 27 guys. We’ve got football, indoor track, basketball guys,” Mascolo said, “which is pretty cool.”
Mascolo said the lacrosse community has welcomed the new program. Henderson said the coaching staff, Mascolo and assistants John Tarnuzzer and Daniel Lawson, have been committed to them and made possible what they’re doing now.
They also helped get the field at the old Quirk Middle School lined for lacrosse, which it hadn’t been until recently.
“Being able to play our first game where we practice every day, it feels good,” senior Dante Rodriguez said.
The plan is to walk the few blocks from Capital Prep to the turf field.
“It’s the North End of Hartford. It’s a little different setting (for lacrosse),” Mascolo said. “It’s right on a busy road. A lot of our kids are from the neighborhood.”