By MATT CRANE
When the Willis family moved to Starkville from Zionsville, Ind. two years ago, one thing seemed to be missing: lacrosse.
Chris Willis, a professor in the college of education at Mississippi State University, said his three sons all played the sport growing up in Indiana.
“Sam, being the oldest, has played the longest,” he said. “So when we moved to Starkville, we started pursuing this idea of getting a lacrosse club in town.”
Willis’s wife, Katrina, said her eldest son contacted the MSU Lacrosse Club in hopes of generating interest and gathering information about how to build a community lacrosse team.
“We started talking to the athletic department at Starkville High School, and they were unsure about taking anything like this on quite yet,” she said. “Our one option was to apply for the First Stick Grant through U.S. Lacrosse.”
Chris Willis said he remembered U.S. Lacrosse because the organization provided the insurance and memberships for players in Zionsville, Ind.
“Katrina wrote the grant in the winter or spring, then on Aug. 15 we were awarded the grant,” he said. “Once that happened, we were in the position to start launching, getting a team formed and getting ready to really make something happen.”
Katrina Willis said along with many benefits, the grant allowed for 24 sets of equipment this year with the promise of an additional 12 sets next year and training for the Starkville Storm’s coach, Brian Carver, who leads the MSU Lacrosse Club.
“The grant provides for level one certification for Brian, and he’ll go to a conference in January with U.S. Lacrosse where he’ll become certified and have AED training,” she said. “The grant also covers all the boys’ insurance and membership for the first year.”
Katrina Willis said her eldest son, Sam, has generated a large amount of interest at his school, Starkville High School, but plans are in motion to extend the invitation to all who want to participate.
“It’s a community-based team, so we want to reach out to Starkville Academy, kids who are home-schooled and anyone in the high school range,” she said. “I think it’s been satisfying for him to achieve this goal since we moved.”
Sam Willis said he heard about lacrosse in the third grade and has enjoyed playing the sport ever since because of it’s fast-paced, strategic nature.
“I really love it because whatever your skill level or ability, there’s a position that you can play and you can fit in anywhere,” he said. “It has feels really good knowing that I’ve accomplished something that I really wanted to do begin able to share this sport with people here. I’m pretty pumped.”
Chris Willis said lacrosse requires 10 players to be on the field with a goalie and three players at each of the defense, mid-field and attack positions.
“In our conversations, we asked what the minimum number was to fill a team, and 16 was the number we had,” he said. “So the fact that our first interest meetings saw 16 people come was really exciting.”
Chris Willis said the Starkville Storm plans to begin play in the spring of 2013, competing against other high school and community clubs throughout the state.
“We’ve been able to track down a few other lacrosse teams in Tupelo and Pontotoc,” he said. “There’s a lacrosse league in Birmingham, Ala., and we’ve gotten the director of that league to contact us, and we’re looking to get a tournament or two together.”
Katrina Willis said she is appreciative of the support they have gained from the Starkville Parks and Recreation department and the MSU Lacrosse Club.
“Parks and Recreation has been fantastic by letting us hold our meetings there and they’ve offered to help run our registrations,” she said. “The men at the MSU club have invited Sam to scrimmage with them, and they’re excited to help. We’re hoping for maybe some summer camps for younger kids and hopefully build a feeder program.”
With two more interest meeting planned in November at the Sportsplex, Chris Willis said he is happy word is getting out about their program and still cannot believe the success he and his family have had in gathering the Starkville Storm.
“Every so often, we look at each other and realize that this is really happening, and not just happening, but succeeding,” he said. “We’re looking to let folks know that we want lacrosse to happen here in Starkville.”
For more information about the Starkville Storm lacrosse club, contact firstname.lastname@example.org  or search for the club’s profiles on both Facebook and Twitter.