NYA student brings lacrosse to Bahamas
Most Americans visiting the Bahamas take the opportunity to relax at the beach and get away from the real world.
North Yarmouth Academy senior Eliott Wellenbach did just the opposite this summer.
Gave as in helping create a co-ed lacrosse camp for island residents unfamiliar with the sport and gave as in donating equipment to help make it all possible.
Wellenbach, 17, who lives in West Bath, with the help of his older sister, Lilly, a former NYA standout, now playing soccer and lacrosse at Williams College, spent part of August in the Bahamas, teaching the sport of lacrosse to local children on the island of Eleuthera.
"It was a great experience," Eliott Wellenbach said. "I'm really glad I went down there."
Wellenbach came late to lacrosse, picking it up in the eighth grade. He swung up to varsity his freshman year and played as a sophomore. His junior season was one of frustration, as he missed 11 games with three separate injuries. The Panthers made it to the Class B Final for the second straight season and again lost to Falmouth, but Wellenbach couldn't truly enjoy it.
His inspiration for the camp came when he spent the fall of 2011 studying at the Island School, where he discovered the paucity of athletic options for local kids. He then set out to do something about it.
"When I got back, I e-mailed the school offering to help with camps in the summer," Wellenbach said. "They said I could run my own camp. They said the kids haven't heard about lacrosse, but those who had been introduced to it, love it. If we could get the gear, it was a good option. I started collecting sticks and gear. I got 27 sticks from friends and family. Everyone has extra sticks. We got T-shirts made. I brought piping and nets down. It was my thing from the start to the finish. When people think of the Bahamas, they think of the sun and beach, but it's not like that at all. It's not as impoverished as many other islands in the Carribean, but it's lower income. Not highly privileged children. They don't have access to equipment. Lacrosse equipment is expensive."
The camp had a solid turnout of 23 kids with nearly a 50-50 breakdown of males and females. While the target age was 10 to 14, there were a few younger children (including a six-year-old) who took part.
It proved to be a learning experience.
"It was interesting at first," said Wellenbach. "They never had organized sports. After the first day, my sister and I knew we had to rework the camp and lay down some rules. There were 23 of them and two of us. Lilly and I did everything on our own. My Mom watched. We did warmup laps and stretching. By the end, it was great. People were having fun, smiling. They picked it up fast. We worked on fundamentals the first couple days. At the end of the day, we'd scrimmage. At the beginning, it was a disaster. Kids would pick up balls with their hands. The last day, we had a scrimmage and people were cradling, shooting, scoring."
The camp was a hit with the local kids.
"The head of the middle school drove some kids home each day and she said the kids couldn't stop talking about how much they loved it and what a great time they were having," Wellenbach said. "We donated everything to the school when we were done. Three kids who had a little experience were our junior counselors. At the end, they got sticks. Their eyes lit up. That made me really happy."
For Wellenbach, it proved to be a fulfilling and educational experience.
"What I got was that I thought I'd be teaching them, but I didn't think what I would learn," Wellenbach said. "They helped me learn. I scheduled for months exactly what we'd do. When it came down to it, you had to learn to go with the flow. You couldn't rely on the schedule. Sometimes you have to break plans and allow it to happen. At first, I thought I'd just do a camp. When I got going, I learned there was much more to it than meets the eye."
Wellenbach, who currently plays soccer at NYA and will be the manager of the boys' hockey squad this winter, is in the college selection process. One part of his future he is sure of is that he plans to return to the Bahamas next summer to renew the camp.
"I want to do it again," Wellenbach said. "We were invited back and told the camp was a big success. I'll bring more counselors next time. People see me with Island School shirts on and it brings up the topic of the camp. People want to help out. People like the idea of incorporating athletics to that part of the world. One guy who works on a boat offered to bring stuff over.
"I know I'm doing it next year. I'd like to keep it growing for years to come. I'd like to see it grow into a lacrosse team on the island that has permanent coaches. That's way in the future. Now it's just building it up."