Members of the Leesville Road boys lacrosse team, the NCHSAA Conference IV champions, went to Neal Middle School last weekend for a surprise visit, delivering donated equipment and providing an impromptu clinic for students at the eastern Durham County school.
Leesville head coach Franklin Zirkle surprised his team with the location of the clinic, not informing them of the destination until after they boarded the activity bus for the May 4 trip. While Durham is home to two-time defending NCAA national champion Duke, the eastern edge of the county is known more for agriculture, golf and Falls Lake.
Much earlier in the school year, Zirkle had approached some other coaches about getting a middle school program started at Neal. The cabal included Zirkle, who also founded and directs the non-profit Hilltopper Lacrosse Foundation, fellow Guilford College alum Tom Brawner, who’s the founder of the Triad Blackhawks, and Alamance County coach Hugh Fiery. All three were interested in seeing lacrosse expand in North Carolina, and eventually connected with Neal teacher Eric Lockhart, a former collegiate lacrosse player at VMI who wanted to bring the game to his middle school.
“Coach Z alluded to some wild idea that he wanted to discuss while we were watching a Guilford College game,” Brawner said. “I knew right away from his project description that we needed to find equipment and make this dream a reality for those kids. I was on the phone that night finding equipment and networking.”
The Blackhawks and Hilltoppers went to work and delivered donated gear two weeks later. Zirkle committed to bringing his high school team over for a mentoring so the Neal Eagles could see what lacrosse looks like on their home field, a vision that all the players, coaches, and parents hope to see soon.
Leesville JV Coach Cameron Ferguson, a letterman on two Chapel Hill High School state championship teams, led demonstrations on proper throwing, catching and picking up ground balls. The Leesville players eagerly broke into small groups with the Eagles to demonstrate, teach, and discuss the game of lacrosse. Zirkle’s sons Chandler and Hartford served as assistant coaches along with Leesville Road players.
“What these young kids were lacking in stick skills they more than made up with enthusiasm, hustle and excitement,” Ferguson said. “I told Coach Z we just need to get them full gear so they can practice and develop a passion for the game. It was a very exciting afternoon.”
“I was really proud of my guys and how they embraced their roles as mentors and realized that they were part of something very special,” Zirkle said. “Many of our players and coaches want to return to Neal and continue to help Coach Lockhart and his staff. With some more fundraising and work, I’m hoping that we can see both a men’s and women’s team right down the road.”