BRYN ATHYN >> Austin Pifani was doing what’s helped him become a captain of the national champion men’s lacrosse team at North Carolina.
Only, this time Pifani wasn’t extolling his teammates on the Tar Heels defense. His right wrist wrapped in a Carolina blue cast, Pifani twirled a stick as he watched two lines of grade school aged lacrosse players running a drill, giving out pointers and offering encouragement.
Much like countless players had done for him growing up, Pifani was at Academy of the New Church to give back to the game, grow the sport and help spur on its growing popularity.
“They see Matt (Rambo) and I on TV and it’s a special experience to be able to share that with them and just have some fun with them,” PIfani said. “Most of them (know who he is), but it’s funny when they don’t because they just goof off with you and mess with you. I remember watching a game with Matt in 2008 that sparked my interest in playing college lacrosse so having an influence on guys who were my age when I got interested is really cool.”
Pifani was one of several high-profile guest coaches at ANC’s week-long camp for elementary to middle-school aged players. Under the direction of ANC head coach Rob Forster, a former standout at LaSalle high school and Penn State, the players in attendance got five days of compact but direct teaching from the skilled older players there with them.
Both of Forster’s younger brothers helped out. Jack Forster, ANC’s assistant coach, played at LaSalle and Penn State like his brother while Kevin Forster just wrapped up a career at St. Joseph’s after also playing at LaSalle. Rambo, currently playing at Maryland after winning a state title at LaSalle and former Maryland and LaSalle goalkeeper Niko Amato gave their time during the week as well.
Rob Forster is also the director of summer sport camps at ANC and said the lacrosse camp, now three years old, has helped open up the facilities and the school’s lacrosse program. Jack Forster said there’s been a significant growth in attendance from the first year to this year with many attendees coming from the Abington Lacrosse Club where the coaches all got their start and the Duke’s Lacrosse Club.
“Myself and my brothers have been welcomed with open arms at ANC and it’s been beyond amazing the past three years,” Rob Forster said. “We all grew up playing lacrosse in the same area and the lacrosse community is kind of a small one. When I got out of college, I started coaching at LaSalle and helped Matt, we created a great relationship. Austin’s like a brother to him and we got to know each other too and built a great relationship.”
Instead of a single day camp, Rob said breaking things up into five two-hour sessions allows the coaches to be fully instructional and do strictly positional instructions the first few days. This allows Pifani, a top defenseman in the country, Rambo, one of the best attackmen in the nation, the Forsters and Amato to really use their expertise. The latter days are spent honing those instructions and playing games.
“That’s what happened when we were little, we always had college coaches coming around and teaching us the game,” Kevin Forster said. “It’s kind of our duty to do that and give back to them. Everyone has fun out here, including the coaches.”
Pifani said he has to be mindful to not be as intense as he would be with his UNC teammates while working with younger kids, but it’s not too difficult. In Thursday’s session, the rising senior said the most important thing was that the kids he worked with were having fun because that’s what got him so interested in the game.
Lacrosse as a sport is one on the rise and this area has produced a large share of top-level players over the last decade. LaSalle reached the state title game this season while Upper Dublin won the District I title and its first round game in states. Abington always produces strong players while other programs like CB West, Hatboro-Horsham and North Penn have been growing.
“It’s this, all this stuff, getting out there and playing,” Jack Forster said. “Growing up, ALC helped us because we all played for ALC and most of us went together to LaSalle. We played together from second grade on all through high school. We knew each other and made each other better.”
Pifani said he thinks the area’s growth is due to the way prior generations enjoyed the game. He recalled being at ANC practices and seeing guys like Rob Forster, Rambo’s older brother Rich and Joey Jones just having so much fun playing the game and wanting to do that same thing.
The local youth level has been such a big part of developing the talent to come out of this area that Rob Forster said it’s imperative for the guys who have gone through the ranks to stay involved and provide new players the same opportunity. Jack Forster added that ANC runs free youth clinics on Saturdays in the spring during the high school season, where the players on the team help out.
“The TV sparks kids’ interests but once a kid picks up a stick, you start to play around, be creative and get to hit some people and score goals, there’s no other feeling than that,” Pifani said. “It’s a special game in itself and I think that’s what’s pushing it. Anything to spread the game, that’s what’s important.”
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