Lacrosse feels out of place for a city loyal to football, basketball and baseball.
Yet, the ambiance during weekday afternoon practices at the Garces High School hill reflects the passion this city has for athleticism and sports.
The turf at one of Garces’ practice fields is illuminated by a few generator lights during the week. As the night progresses, 20 or so high school students pick up and move the goal nets following the light.
The Bakersfield Youth Lacrosse League was founded in 2013 and in its short four years, it has grown to more than 80 players.
The league is run and coached by Andrew Zaninovich.
Zaninovich played the sport himself, all through high school and then at UC Davis.
“The friendships and the traveling that we did as a team in college really helped define the person I am now and it really solidified my commitment to this sport,” Zaninovich said.
The teens that practice at Garces make the trip from different high schools in the city.
The Rams Lacrosse Club is celebrating its first season this year – the first high school lacrosse program in Kern County.
Most of the boys on the team have played football and baseball since they were kids. But when another contact sport came to light, their athletic itch sparked an interest.
For Carlos Rosales, 17, being a part of something new in Bakersfield was an influential factor in his decision to join the club.
“I wanted to be a part of Bakersfield history,” said Rosales, one of three team captains.
And history he’s made. Rosales scored the first goal during their first game.
Although the Bakersfield team didn’t win its first two games, the games weren’t blowouts either. One game was decided by one goal, the other by two goals.
The local league is playing against schools whose athletes have been playing lacrosse their entire lives in Northern and Southern California where lacrosse is a top sport.
“On that first meeting, coach Zaninovich told us we had 30 days to learn the sport before our first game,” said Cameron Garcia, 17. “And we were like, ‘OK.’”
The first game against Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead was intense to say the least.
“Everyone knows that we are new in the league, so that adds to the pressure,” Garcia said. “But we go out there and try to make the first impact.”
While the first day of practice was brutal – few knew what a lacrosse stick looked like, let alone how to use it – their practices have improved and to someone who has never played lacrosse, the team looks like they’ve been doing this for years.
Zaninovich looks at peace during practices when he blows the whistle to signal either a correction in catching or transitions in a play.
Bringing lacrosse to Bakersfield has been a dream come true, Zaninovich said.
The league that started out with six kids playing catch at Jastro Park, now has three different age groups plus the high school division.
Developing the sport in the Central Valley has even received attention from the U.S. Lacrosse Association, Zaninovich noted.
“Bakersfield is a great community and there is tremendous loyalty,” he said. “But once they realize that this is a fun sport that will complement any athlete to get better at any sport, they will get to appreciate what this sport can do for them.”