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April 9, 2013

Lacrosse has increased in popularity for combined team of Utica and Ford

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

Approximately three years ago, a parent of a player who Kyle Bonkowski coached in elementary school suggested he coach a lacrosse program that was being started at Utica, which was a JV program with kids from Utica High and Utica Ford II.

Bonkowski decided to take her up on her suggestion and took over a program that had 27 players suit up the first year; about three of those players had experience playing the sport.

Now in its third season as a JV program, Utica/Ford’s roster size has grown to 61.

Bonkowski has received help in growing the program from assistant coaches Adam Chmielewski, Russ Janis and Gabe Marquez, as well as Utica Athletic Director Jim Vigus and some of the players on the team. He has been pleased with the progress he has seen since starting the program.

Bonkowski said he got some words of encouragement from one of the program’s biggest supporters, his father, who comes to almost every game and remarked about the vast improvement he’s seen from the kids.

“Being able to see the growth from not being able to catch, pass or shoot, to kids able to shoot top left corner of the net, and he hits it, has been phenomenal,” the coach said.

When the program was launched, a three-year agreement was in place with the Michigan High School Athletic Association to combine Utica and Ford II as a junior varsity squad. That agreement ends after this season, at which time the team will split and the two high schools will have separate varsity programs.

According to Bonkowski, it is still undecided as to who will coach which program when the split occurs.

In addition to helping prepare players for a possible opportunity to compete at the college level, trying to get a girls lacrosse program started at Ford and having players maintain a high grade point average in school, Bonkowski also has other goals he would like to see achieved.

“Our big goal is to make sure we keep getting these numbers,” he said. “Try and get kids to be more aware that we have a lacrosse program and continue to grow the sport. My personal goal is, for next year, I want to have two full squads — one at Utica, one at Ford. If I can do that, we’ll be successful (because), at that point, if we can still have longevity, then there’s no doubt in my mind that the program will continue to grow.”

According to Bonkowski, approximately 65 percent of his players are comprised of students from Ford. While he would like to see the numbers go up from the Utica side, as a whole, he thinks the future of high school lacrosse in the area has the potential to be a good one.

“I’m very optimistic with this group,” he said. “I see nothing but good things coming their way. It’s almost like a family; that’s why I’m still here. When we do have this split, you’re not going to sit here and say, ‘OK, see you later. I don’t want to talk to you ever again.’ The two programs are still going to grow.

“We have this family-style community, where if one team’s struggling, we’ll do anything in our power to get that team pulled back up along with us, as well. I’m very optimistic.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.