Having a Ball: The Bandits Love Playing Lacrosse
By Rebecca Foster-Goodman Once considered an elite sport played at prep schools, lacrosse has seen a massive rise in popularity in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff in recent years from both boys and girls.
Lake Forest native John Lazzaretto, a Lake Forest High School football player, was not part of the lacrosse world until his two youngest children took a liking to the sport. His son seemed to be getting proper training in the local boys’ league, but the girls’ program was not on the same solid ground for his daughter. Lazzaretto decided to get into the game of training girls for lacrosse and created the Bandits.
“We want this to be a place where the girls can have fun," says John Lazzaretto, who coaches the Bandits with Caroline Tesar.
The Bandits launched in 2014 with three kids. By the end of the first season, they had 25 kids. Over time, the Bandits have grown exponentially, and they have secured more coaches. One of those is Caroline Tesar, whom Lazzaretto considers vital to the program’s success. “Caroline and I put our hearts and souls into the Bandits,” he said. “We build character as well as give the girls an opportunity to love the game.”
One of the cornerstones of their vision is staying positive. Lazzaretto endured a negative, demeaning style of coaching and wanted to be sure his girls were taught differently. “I was definitely affected by the way I was coached,” he said. “I wanted to be sure that I did not coach that way. I weeded the negativity out of my system and reminded myself that we are a positive program that focuses on playing really good lacrosse.”
The Bandits organization has trained hundreds of girls since 2014. And even though Lazzaretto considers the Bandits to be a “rec-level” organization, some of their alumni have gone on to play at top-notch universities such as West Point, Duke and others. His daughter, Ellie, and fellow former Bandit Caroline Smith helped lead Loyola Academy to a state championship this year. Their success stories definitely prove the Bandits’ method is on an elite level. Although their goal is not necessarily to get the girls on college teams, they definitely facilitate a deep love and appreciation of the game.
“We want Bandits to be a good experience for the players, the parents, and the coaches,” Lazzaretto said. “We want this to be a place where the girls can have fun, learn the game, blow off some steam and enjoy being a kid.”
The Bandits began their new season on Aug. 23 at Lake Forest College. The smiles on the coaches and the players assured anyone passing by that these girls truly enjoy the sport of lacrosse. Lazzaretto and Tesar lead by example, and it is obvious in the way the girls cheer each other on. “We put forth our best effort during practice,” he said. “We encourage our players to be good teammates. We highlight the things done well. We teach them to fill each other’s emotional tank.”
Lazzaretto hopes that his former players will feel the desire to come back and coach, keeping the spirit of the Bandits alive.
“We want to continue to grow girls’ lacrosse in our community, giving our local girls an opportunity to love the game,” he said. “If we keep the pipeline going, our program will continue to be successful for many years to come.”
For more information on the Bandits, visit www.banditslacrosseclub.org.