By Craig Forsythe
LILacrosseNews.com, Posted 10/18/11
Editor’s Note – This is the first of a series of articles profiling programs that build lacrosse on Long Island. To suggest a story idea on a LI lacrosse program deserving recognition, e-mail us at golax@LILacrosseNews.com
Mike Winkoff started the For the Love of the Game club program in 2006 in hopes of building successful lacrosse teams and also helping boys and girls to stress good character and community service.
The organization (flglacrosse.com) has recently helped many middle school and high school kids in the Roosevelt area to experience lacrosse for the first time while building connections in the community for all involved. Expanding greatly in the last five years, FLG is looking for ways to support more teams and delve into other areas to help more kids.
LILacrosseNews.com caught up with coach Winkoff as well as FLG coach Vinny Alvarez, who has been most involved in helping build the Roosevelt programs.
Why did you start the organization?
Winkoff: “The organization started when my business partner asked me to coach his son an 8th grade lacrosse team he owned. We didn’t believe in the idea that you had to pay to play and, since this was the time Wall Street was booming, we were able to find people who were willing to pay for everything related to the club. Things like hotel bills, equipment, transportation, tournament fees, things like that. The following year, we were fortunate enough to run three teams. Now, we’ve expanded to six teams for boys and we also have four teams for girls (6th grade,7th grade, 8th grade, 11th grade). It’s been pretty successful.”
What was the hardest part of starting the organization?
Winkoff: “The hardest part is trying to get our mission across to the parents that it’s more than just winning. The point of our organization is to develop more than just an athlete. We’re not focused so much on the score of the game, but more of the character our players portray on and off the field. Now that we are in our sixth summer, unfortunately we have to ask a family to leave each summer because they don’t understand the point of the organization. The score doesn’t equate to happiness or character.
“Our mission is to make a respectable man or respectable woman that is a good person and helpful in the community. Every kid in our organization does community service. Also, we’re reaching out to areas that are non-traditional lacrosse communities to help build kids with character through the sport of lacrosse. Winning doesn’t help the kids as much as the other things we offer at For the Love of the Game.”
By 2009, FLG launched the Lax4all program. Lax4all had one simple goal in mind: spread the game of lacrosse.
That year, FLG started youth PAL lacrosse in the town of Roosevelt. Through the generous donations from various sponsors, FLG was able to outfit these 3rd and 4th grade boys with equipment, apparel, and jerseys.
That winter, FLG players and coaches held indoor clinics and practices to not only educate the young Roosevelt players, but to also educate the novice volunteer coaches. By the spring of 2009, the first ever Roosevelt boys’ team was ready to compete in the Long Island PAL spring league. By 2010, there were two2 Roosevelt PAL teams participating in the spring league, a third and fourth grade team and a fifth and sixth grade team. Also, Roosevelt lacrosse had expanded to the middle school level. With 1 boy and 1 girl team comprised of both 7th and 8th graders, Roosevelt’s youth laxers would be able to continue developing their lacrosse skills at the next level.
FLG has just accumulated enough funding to start up Roosevelt lacrosse at the Junior Varsity Level. FLG started Roosevelt lacrosse from the bottom-up, with the hope that these children will get the chance to develop their skills at the same rate as the children from other towns on Long Island. Roosevelt is just one destination for the For the Love of the Game organization. Using the great game of lacrosse, FLG plans on using Roosevelt as a stepping-stone towards bettering the lives of many more children and teenagers across Long Island. As for the children who are a part of the For the Love of the Game organization, lacrosse will be used as a tool to build more than just athletes.
What’s the most rewarding part of the program for you?
Alvarez: “The most rewarding part of the program for me is seeing the kids and how they get better from the first practice to the last practice. Also, seeing the kids start to enjoy the sport is pretty rewarding. For us, the coaches, it’s not about winning. It’s about seeing how well the kids are developing with the game and to see if they’re enjoying it.”
How many kids does the program help today?
Alvarez: “Right now, we have teams for third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade. We also have two middle school teams, one boys’ team and one girls’ team. We also have two JV teams for ninth and tenth graders, which some 11th graders are allowed to join. We started out with two teams of about 30 kids and now we’ve expanded to somewhere near 100 kids.”
What direction do you hope the program goes?
Alvarez: “We want to go further than Long Island. We want to go nationwide. Once we grow this program, we want to branch out to different areas that may not be as focused or as knowledgeable on the sport of lacrosse as Long Island. For instance, we’ve looked into expanding to Tennessee. It’s not a definite, but it has been something we’ve looked into doing going forward with the organization.”