Jeff Malinen grew up playing lacrosse while in middle school and high school, and he nearly made the college team at the Air Force Academy.
So his passion for the sport has always been there and when he saw a chance to bring the game to Navarre, he didn’t hesitate.
“There are thriving programs in other cities and I saw an opportunity to start it here,” Malinen said. “I took it. We affiliated with the NYSA (Navarre Youth Sports Association) to help make it happen.”
Navarre’s travel lacrosse program featured a 10U and 12U team this season, both made up of boys. A total of 28 were on the two rosters.
Clinics were held last fall to generate interest.
“The main hurdle was just creating awareness. It wasn’t easy to do because we didn’t have a budget for advertising,” Malinen said. “One of the neighboring programs, Emerald Coast Lightning Lacrosse, gave us equipment such as balls and goals to run clinics. Our clinics went well. From there, we put together our two teams.”
A schedule was assembled featuring five jamborees held at various locations in the Panhandle, including one Navarre held at NYSA in late March.
The jamborees were challenging as Navarre was up against established teams out of places like Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Niceville.
Ultimately, the fierce competition helped push Navarre forward.
“The level of skill for those neighboring teams is a high, and with us having first-year teams, hurdles are to be expected,” Malinen said. “But the challenges they gave us helped our game significantly. You could see the improvements in our players the more games we played.”
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