Five-year-old Ella Boisvert has been known to fall asleep in her bed holding her lacrosse stick. That’s how much she loves the sport.
Ella is one of a growing group of little girls who play a unique brand of field lacrosse each week in Sarnia parks.
Brian DeWagner, a father of two young girls and a counsellor for at-risk students with the Lambton Kent District School Board, founded the group in 2013 and named it Janie Two Hander, just to be quirky and fun.
“For us, it’s not about the sport at all. It’s about building confidence and building community,” says DeWagner, who coaches with the help of wife June Partridge and a few parent volunteers.
DeWagner has a longstanding connection with the sport and wants to see it grow in Sarnia, but he also recognizes it’s a team sport that builds esteem in young girls and gives them a sense of belonging.
“When Ella started JK, she was having issues at school with another girl who wasn’t being so nice to her,” says Ella’s mother Sara Boisvert.
“She was becoming shy, stopped wanting to join in. It really rocked her world,” she said.
Ella’s parents began looking for something to counter what was going on at school and heard about Janie Two Hander.
“It definitely took a while, and she needed someone to take her hand and get her to join in. But one of the other girls did that and I really do think the program helped her,” Boisvert said.
She added the kids spend a lot of time dancing and having fun on the field.
Another bonus is Ella’s new friendship with a member of the Findlay University Lacrosse team.
From the beginning, DeWagner was determined to offer his program free and provide all the equipment so every girl could play regardless of economic status. He used to work for the University of Michigan’s Athletic Department and has connections with several American universities that donated equipment.
The first year, five or six schools responded. One of them was the University of Findlay in Ohio, which also took on a mentoring role and began sending its girls’ lacrosse team to Sarnia to hold clinics for the Janie Two Handers.
“Our girls are just so wide-eyed that these college girls are actually paying attention to them,” said DeWagner. One befriended Ella and keeps in regular contact.
This year, DeWagner sent letters to 400 American schools, asking for their extra goggles. Goggles poured in. Janie Two Hander now has 27 college partners.
“I have a background in lacrosse. It’s growing fast but it’s still a niche or a fringe sport and I know the colleges want to help it grow,” said DeWagner. “It’s also a sport that any kid can learn quickly. If you can catch and throw, you can do it.”
Registration for Janie Two Hander will be held in mid-April. Dates and location have yet to be confirmed. Contact DeWagner at [email protected] or 519-542-5331.
Jimmy Two Hander is the name of the men’s lacrosse program that DeWagner started in order to support Janie Two Hander. When the men order shirts, for instance, they tag on a $5 fee to help the little girls get shirts. There’s also a women’s team and the Janie Lax program for three to 11 year old girls.
DeWagner has started an all-ages program for the kids at the House By the Side of the Road on Kathleen Street and hopes to introduce something for boys down the road.
“We started with 12 kids and we had 100 in the fall session,” he said, reflecting on the success of his unusual approach.
“A kid who picks up a lacrosse stick is automatically unique. It’s one of those games where there’s a spot for everybody.”