Cabarrus Clash builds foundation for sport

Jeff Copeland spent nearly three hours almost every day driving his two boys - Tristen, 13, and Hayden, 10 - back and forth from lacrosse practices in Iredell County, the closest place his sons could play the sport.

Frustrated with the commute, Copeland decided to take matters into his own hands.

"I finally said to myself 'I can do this in Cabarrus County,'" he said. "So I decided to give it a run."

Born out of that idea, Copeland founded the Cabarrus County Clash club lacrosse team in February 2009.

Today, more than 250 athletes - ages 4 to 17 - participate in the club.

The Clash currently has 10 boys' teams, ranging from under-nine to both middle school and high school teams, as well as three girls' teams.

The club even has a peanuts team for pre-elementary school children, ranging from ages 4 to 6, that plays a modified type of lacrosse.

While Copeland envisioned the program, former Syracuse lacrosse player Chris McCartan, who is now the head coach of the overall club, has also played an integral part.

"We started the Clash with a real hometown, small, mom-and-pops feeling with the majority of our athletes coming from Cabarrus County," said McCartan. "The majority of our players had never touched a (lacrosse) stick before they played for the Clash, so we knew that we would have to build things from the ground up."

McCartan is still shocked at how much support and how fast the program, which depends heavily on volunteers, has grown in 27 months.

"The sport is the biggest catalyst for itself," said McCartan. "Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America by far in the last 15 years. Once these kids pick up a stick, they never want to put it down."

In the big picture, Copeland, McCartan and the Clash organization want to see the game grow in Cabarrus County and provide children with the opportunities that go along with the game.

"The opportunity to send kids to college and have your education paid for is one of the main focuses of our program," McCartan said. "We feel like our year-round opportunities have already made big strides for lacrosse in this county."

That also means McCartan and parents like Andy Jones, whose son Timmy Jones is on the U11 club and travel team, want to see lacrosse in middle and high schools in the near future.

The boys' U9 and U11 teams have grown the most and have the numbers and talent to develop into high school programs in the next several years.

The U11 team has shown enough promise that they were invited to play at halftime of the Notre Dame-North Carolina lacrosse game in Chapel Hill May 6.

The Cabarrus Clash hopes to help the county implement the transition into intercollegiate lacrosse by having club teams at schools like Cox Mill, Jay M. Robinson and others with the idea that they become junior varsity and varsity programs after two to three years of development.

"We feel we are on the cusp of having high school teams in Cabarrus County," said Jones.

McCartan agrees they are close, but he wants to be sure the timing is right.

"Once we make the jump to varsity high school lacrosse, there is no turning back," he said. "I want to make sure Cabarrus County teams are ready to compete at the high school level and I think we are close. It's not an issue of numbers, but an issue of talent and development."

Through what McCartan has seen in the Cabarrus Clash program, he feels the county could have a bright lacrosse future.

"I think we'll be banging heads with the best teams in North Carolina soon," he said.

McCartan is focused on offereing kids the same opportunities he had growing up with lacrosse.

"I pay deference to my involvement with lacrosse and credit it for virtually everything I have done," said McCartan, who has an undergraduate and a masters' degree from Syracuse, the school that lacrosse earned him a scholarship to attend. "You can look at my degrees and national championship (with the Orange in 1995), but the stuff I really treasure is the friends, the relationships and the memories that the sport gave me that I will have the rest of my life."