A series of fortunate events brought lacrosse to lower Alabama. Only four years ago, the sport was practically nonexistent in our area. Now, the fledgling Lower Alabama Lacrosse Bayhawks program has five teams and more than 100 players.

Jenny Ross was the catalyst. In the summer of 2008, she and her husband, Rhett, moved to Baldwin County from Baltimore, a city where lacrosse reigns supreme. Their daughter had played for four years, and their son had just finished his first year. Surprised to discover there was no lacrosse in the Bay area, Jenny applied for a grant from the U.S. Lacrosse Association to start a team here. Jenny says she was simply “a lacrosse mom” looking for a way to allow her children to continue to play.

The timing was right. The lacrosse league in Birmingham put Jenny in touch with Winton Blount IV, a Montgomery native who had moved his family to Fairhope in 2005. He developed a love for the sport during boarding school in Virginia in the ’80s, and he went on to play and coach for more than a dozen years. Together, with grant money in hand, Winton and Jenny started a team. Now Winton coaches the Bayhawks, and his son plays.

As the founders sketched out their plans, the stars aligned to bring more members into the fold. Kecia Chason had recently moved from New Hampshire back home to Baldwin County to marry her high school sweetheart; accompanying her were two lacrosse-playing sons and a nephew. The three boys became Bayhawks. At about the same time, my son Richardson Irvine went off to camp and fell in love with the game. He and his two brothers started to play, and now my husband coaches. Several others boys followed suit, and the Bayhawks have continued to grow, now including a girls’ team as well.

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Jenny says she’s fascinated by how many people here have ties to lacrosse, considering that there was a void just a few years ago.

“I was also shocked at how many volunteer coaches we initially found, ” Winton says. “They seemed to come out of the woodwork.” Eric Blaha is a prime example. (The lower Alabama resident had played the sport at the University of Missouri and the State University of New York at Buffalo.) Driving home one day, he spotted an early Bayhawks clinic. Eric happened to have his lacrosse stick in the car, so he stopped. It turned out to be a fateful decision; this is his third season coaching with the group.

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(Back row, left to right) Zack Sanchez, Billy Brooks, Zane Sanchez and Matthew Dance; (front row, left to right) Richardson Irvine, Phineas Irvine and Winton Blount V are all founding members of the Lower Alabama Lacrosse Bayhawks.

The sport is spreading like wildfire across the region. From where Winton sits, it seems poised to take off all along the Gulf Coast as leagues continue to add a vast number of players.

Perhaps lacrosse’s growing popularity is due to its reputation as a fast-paced amalgamation of familiar games. “We run like soccer, hit like football and execute plays like basketball, ” Winton explains. “It also constantly switches from offense to defense, and the ball transfers back and forth. Even those who don’t know how to play the sport love it because of the constant action.”

The Bayhawks teams are based in Daphne. Winton and Jenny are quick to sing the praises of Daphne’s recreation director, David McKelroy, for his initial faith and continuing support.

As it turns out, Winton and Jenny have made a nice team. “Jenny’s drive and organizational skills have been an amazing thing to watch, ” Winton says.

She is equally complimentary. “Winton has such a passion for the sport, ” Jenny says. “He told me that I would find no greater ally, and he was right.”

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by Sallye Irvine

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