RC lacrosse alum spurs sports’ popularity in Lone Star state
In a big state with a monstrous football presence, Jason Gildea '95 is quickly carving a sizable niche for lacrosse.
Two years ago, Gildea and his wife Desiree established the Frisco Lacrosse Association, a youth lacrosse program in Frisco, Texas for kindergarteners through 8th-graders. In that short time, the program has become the second-largest of 143 youth lacrosse programs in Texas.
"My wife and I are just blown away," said Gildea, a lacrosse standout at Roanoke College who later played for the Capital Lacrosse Club in Washington, D.C. - part of a league that was a precursor to the professional-level Major League Lacrosse.
Founding a lacrosse program would seem a natural move for someone with Gildea's penchant for the sport. But as time passed and his focus turned to job and family, lacrosse shifted to the side burner. Two years ago, after the family moved to Frisco, where Gildea had taken a job as director of infrared components at TT Electronics, his son Aidan brought lacrosse right back to the front burner.
"Dad, I want to play lacrosse," Aidan told his father.
Gildea said he searched for a youth league for his son in Frisco, located 20 miles north of Dallas. The closest was in Plano, but Gildea wasn't keen on the idea of traveling out of town. Plus, "because I had played, I thought 'Well, I can teach my son and bunch of his friends'," he said.
So he contacted the U.S. Lacrosse Foundation, which donated boys' lacrosse gloves for the 10 youngsters, all third-graders. Every Saturday, they would take to the field for practice. Quickly, the group of 10 grew to 20.
The boys continued to play through the summer. During that time, Gildea - who holds an MBA from Daniel Webster College - and his wife Desiree, took steps to establish a youth lacrosse program as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Frisco Lacrosse Association was born.
When the program's first registration in the fall of 2009 opened, 85 boys signed up. In the spring - the primary season for lacrosse - 175 players signed up, nine teams total. When fall registration closed in September of this year, 220 players had signed up - 13 teams including the program's first girls' team. Gildea's daughter Abby, 8, is a member. (Gildea and his wife also have another daughter, 4-year-old Mia, who is not playing lacrosse yet, but "wants to real bad," her dad said.)
Gildea attributes the program's rapid growth in part to Dallas-area weather that is conducive to playing sports almost year-round. Kids "are looking for another outlet in the spring," he said. "Lacrosse is brand-new to the area, but they like it because it's physical like football."
The Dallas community, too, is big on youth sports, Gildea said. Frisco is a city teeming with young families; the median age is 34, he said. And it is a growing community, where the population has spiked from 34,000 in 2000 to more than 102,000 in 2009. According to 2010 U.S. Census population estimates, Frisco is the fastest-growing city in the country.
The Frisco Lacrosse Association is completely volunteer-run; about 30 volunteers work with the program. Each season, five to 10 scholarships are awarded to boys and girls who cannot afford the cost to play.
Gildea said he is thrilled about the program's potential - not just for young people to play lacrosse, but to understand the philosophy of lacrosse that he learned from Bill Pilat, head men's lacrosse coach at Roanoke College.
"Coach Pilat created that philosophy back in the '90s," Gildea said. "It's called the CHAOS [Constantly Harass and Create Opportunities to Score] philosophy, a form of lacrosse that requires dedication and a lot of heart."
It's what Pilat calls "run and gun."
"It's the way we want to play lacrosse - always push the tempo of the game, dictate the pace of the game, which is a fast pace," said Pilat, who was pleased to hear Gildea has carried that style of play to his lacrosse program.
And with success. In June, Frisco Lacrosse Association teams traveled to St. Louis to compete in the Dick's Midwest Cup. The U11 and U13 teams won their age group; the U13 team earned an automatic bid to the Tournament of Champions in Tampa, Fla. on Dec. 31, 2010-Jan. 2, 2011.
Gildea said he shares with young players what he learned from Coach Pilat and from Scott Allison, athletics director and head men's soccer coach.
"Playing for Roanoke College meant so much to me," Gildea said. "Knowing that [Frisco players] understand the philosophy of lacrosse at Roanoke - the same philosophy that I learned - is really a special thing."