BRIDGEPORT -- Right now, Donald Wilson is a coach without players.
In the fall and in the spring, there are enough to go around. Lacrosse is an exciting sport, but new in the eyes of many kids in the immediate area. Basketball is what they know. In some cases, it's all they know.
And right now, a lot of those kids are playing intramural basketball. From 75-plus kids in the fall and spring that are part of Wilson's lacrosse programs across the city, when winter (and basketball) come, those numbers drop. Drastically.
So, Wilson wants to change all that. Yes, basketball is cool, but lacrosse is just as cool, and equally as physical and intense.
For the past five years, Wilson has been running the Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse program. From humble beginnings on Saturday mornings at the Cardinal Shehan Center to now -- Wilson also has a program at the Hall Neighborhood House and at five middle schools, working with the Lighthouse Program -- he is looking to get the word out even more to make kids aware of the excitement of lacrosse.
"These kids are playing basketball seven days a week and I have to battle that," Wilson said. "I'm trying to expand the winter program and keep these kids involved in lacrosse, keep their sticks in their hands year-round.
"I'm looking to get more kids involved, especially at the 7-to-15 age level. We're teaching lacrosse to the kids with the Lighthouse Program at Blackham, Winthrop, Reed, Cross and Madison Schools, and I'm really trying to develop this as a feeder into the youth lacrosse program and continue it into the high schools."
Wilson estimates that he has between 15 to 20 kids at each of the five schools in the fourth- to eighth-grade range. But he wants more.
A lot more.
Because, you see, Wilson wants to create a co-op lacrosse team comprised of the four city high schools -- Central, Bullard-Havens, Harding and Bassick. The Hilltoppers were the only school that had a lacrosse program, which started in 2005-06. But in four seasons, Central went just 4-55 and dropped the program in 2011 to a junior varsity level.
And recently, coach Jim Padua stepped away from the lacrosse program, leaving the Hilltoppers looking for a new coach. Wilson is working on getting his Level 2 coaching registration so he can work as an assistant coach while a search for a new coach starts.
"We have all the equipment, we have all the resources, all we need are players," he said. "We need to get the word out that lacrosse is cool. We're working on getting a (co-op) charter ... but we have to wait for kids to actually sign up before we sign the charter, because you only have two years with the charter. With those 50 kids, we could have a freshman, JV and varsity team.
"I want to work with the AD (athletic directors) at Harding and Bassick (and Bullard-Havens) to start teams. It would give these kids another opportunity to get a scholarship and get to college, especially inner-city kids."
Wilson says that the Rusty Red Foundation and Maverick Lacrosse are providing all the funding and equipment needed to maintain the co-op program and the youth lacrosse clinics at the schools, but he needs kids to participate. Why they don't want to come out and play is mind-boggling, Wilson said.
"The kids we have try and spread the word but I think there's still that stigma ... some of the kids don't want to tell anyone that they're playing," Wilson said. "So some of them don't say that they're playing lacrosse. They feel embarrassed.
"I don't know how many (if any) have signed up from Harding or Bassick. I heard from a parent that there are at least five kids interested in playing from Bassick, but I don't know about Harding. All they have to do is come, we'll give them everything. The funding is there. They're just waiting on me to tell them how much I need for this co-op program."
The Shehan Center program runs Wednesday from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., and the Hall Neighborhood House program goes from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
"We've got everything," Wilson said. "We just need the kids."