The first intramural girls lacrosse teams were formed in Lancaster County in 1999 at Conestoga Valley, Lancaster Country Day and Penn Manor. Though, none of those teams played each other then, marking the last year there were no high school girls lacrosse games in the county.
That is until this spring, with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the 2020 season.
As a result, LNP|LancasterOnline is revisiting those early years of high school girls lacrosse.
And with that, we go to Francie Thayer’s home, which was then located just a few blocks from Franklin & Marshall College on the Manheim Township line. The date was Dec. 3, 1999.
Thayer, a Baltimore native who played at Trinity College in the 1970s, called a meeting for those interested in getting girls lacrosse off the ground.
“The first item on the agenda was,” Thayer said. “Was to review the progress of the sport at each school.”
At the meeting was Thayer, Penn Manor’s Dee Minchhoff, Conestoga Valley’s Jen Sykes (maiden name Fluck), Manheim Township’s Lynn Lynch and Hempfield’s Susan Weed, in addition to Lisa Clark, a Lancaster resident with several years experience officiating the college game.
From there, the women formed a schedule of coaching and officiating clinics for the months of January, February and March, with help from women’s lacrosse coaches from Elizabethtown, F&M and Millersville.
This led to play days for high schoolers to try the sport, held on Saturday mornings in April 2000.
“We were astounded at the numbers,” Thayer said. “We were probably pushing a hundred kids.”
The play days were held on grass fields at Lancaster Country Day and Conestoga Valley. Because of the shoestring operation, Thayer and Sykes lined the fields with flour, which was more cost-effective than spray paint.
“With a can of spray paint, I could maybe get the crease and the 8-meter arc down,” Sykes said. “I could do a whole field with a bag of flour.”
Twenty-four lacrosse sticks and two goal cages were purchased thanks to a grant from the Philadelphia chapter of US Lacrosse. Sykes, a CV alum who played field hockey and lacrosse at East Stroudsburg, bought two goal cages with her own money. And Minchhoff purchased goal cages with money from fundraisers and players’ parents. On Saturday mornings, those cages were transported in the backs of pickup trucks to wherever the play days were being held.
Sykes also had a traveling bag of 30 lacrosse sticks. Some were plastic. Some were wood.
“We had girls who had boys lacrosse sticks,” she said. “Stores didn’t even know there was a difference in boys and girls lacrosse sticks back then.”
The play days were an overwhelming success. A year later, the Lancaster Area Girls Lacrosse Association was formed and held its inaugural season in spring 2001. The league had 13 teams: Central Dauphin, Cocalico, Conestoga Valley, Cumberland Valley, Ephrata, Hempfield, Lampeter-Strasburg, Lancaster Country Day, Manheim Township, Penn Manor, Susquehannock, Warwick and York United.
Thayer, who had previously launched girls lacrosse in Colorado in the 1980s, was the league’s point person in its first two years before serving as the Lancaster Country Day coach from 2003 through 2008.
“The first couple of years I was running it off my kitchen table,” said Thayer, who now lives in Maryland.
The Lancaster-Lebanon League eventually adopted girls lacrosse in 2005, when the PIAA officially sanctioned the sport. The first PIAA girls lacrosse tournament was held in 2009.
“There’s now been two decades of lacrosse players come through the area,” said Sykes, who moved to New York in 2004. “It was unique to be a part of building something from the ground up.”