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Cheltenham enjoys successful re-launch for boys’ lacrosse program – even without any wins

Friday, 10th June 2022

Categories Boy's/Men's, High School  

By Chris Goldberg, Posted 6/10/22

The PIAA championships will be held Saturday, but at Cheltenham the boys’ team considers itself the ultimate winners – even despite going winless at the JV level.

The Panthers’ story is about persistence of a senior college commit who wanted to bring the sport back to his school. It’s about a diverse group of players – most of whom had never played lacrosse – but dared to embrace the challenge of struggling to learn it at the high school level.

Cheltenham, which last had a team in 2017, at the varsity level, finished 0-9 in its JV schedule in the Suburban One American Conference in 2022. The members, though, sure felt like champions.

“I think the best thing we accomplished was being a family,” said senior defenseman Logan Byers, a King’s College commit who led the push to re-start the program “Every Friday we’d be at my house – not worried about lacrosse – but sticking with each other.

“I wasn’t really expecting that when we started this program. I have got to give a lot of the credit to coach (Jessica Byers). She really emphasized the family part and I am pretty happy she did that.”

Cheltenham boys’ lacrosse: Front Row: (from left) – Qadir Hayward, Chris Davis, Rahmere Sanders, Noah Carter, Logan Byers, Oscar Chaney, Reilly Krystoforski, Coach Jessica Byers; Second Row – Gabe Kellogg, Derek “DJ” Howell, James Newkirk, Zyhid Metz, William Stewart, Zachai Edmonds, Teddy Wilson, Kadin Ginkinger. Not pictured: Gilbert Alamur

Yes, Cheltenham’s coach is Jessica Byers, Logan’s mother. Byers has served as the Cheltenham girls’ coach for 4 years, but was so enthused by her son’s desire to re-launch the boys’ program she took the steps to get qualified and serve as the boys’ coach once it became clear no man would take the job.

Meanwhile, Logan Byers recruited a number of players to help convince the school district to support the program. The team raised money through a Philadelphia Lacrosse Association grant for equipment (see thank you letter at bottom) and the HEADstring™ Project donated sticks.

Once the preseason practices began, some new players did not stay. But many who had never played did keep playing, and 14 players – only two of them seniors – comprised a Panthers squad that became competitive at the JV level and determined to move the program to the varsity level in 2023.

“I never played before, what drove me to try it was because I knew it was physical,” said 2024 midfielder Noah Carter, “I played football, I wrestled and I ran track, so I liked being physical and I wanted to get out there and try it.

“In the beginning it was hard; I couldn’t pick up the ball. I didn’t know how to throw it. I didn’t even know how to hold the stick.

Cheltenham players, from left, Reilly Krystoforski, Logan Byers, Noah Carter, Zyhid Metz

“But the team helped me get everything together and be a better athlete. I think – when you look at our record – they were all losses. But in reality they were all wins. During the games people kept coming up to us, saying how well we did as first-year players.”

Carter is excited about the program’s future, noting that the Cedarbrook Middle School program is sending up players with experience. He’s even more motivated because he said the players returning gained a passion for the sport.

“I have seen a lot of growth, getting to know people I would have never known,” Carter said. “Now, I can use that in life; you have to learn to know new people.

“I know that I will strive for greatness and by senior year have a (college) offer.”

Carter, who is black, said the team’s camaraderie and the acceptance he witnessed from opponents made him believe players from all backgrounds can enjoy the sport of lacrosse.

“I truly believe anybody can play,” he said. ” I heard the stereotypes. I thought lacrosse was for white players. I didn’t see many (players of color) out on the field when I saw the sport (before). But now playing, it’s truly different.”

Zyhid Metz, a 2023 midfielder, is a basketball player who also never played lacrosse until this spring. He said struggling to learn the sport helped him grow.

“A couple friends asked me if I would be interested and it seemed like a good thing to do, so I gave it a go,” he said. “It was definitely hard for the first week, but as long as you see how your teammates adapt and if you have the mindset to put the work in, it can be easy.

“I like the communication in the sport. We all got out of our comfort zone and gave it our best, even when we thought we couldn’t.”

Metz also felt winning and losing was overshadowed by effort and spirit. “I feel as though you should have the same heart coming out of the game as you have going in,” he said. “Winning … that’s cool. But it’s all about what’s inside you.”

Metz, who is black, said athletes of color should not be discouraged to see few minorities playing the sport now, but rather encouraged as more enter the sport.

“We should always have eyes for new things and look at how much you can give towards the team and how much effort and responsibility you have for the team,” he said, “It’s not about whether my skin color is different from yours. We are all human and, regardless, we all have to work with each other one way or another.”

Cheltenham boys’ lacrosse

Reilly Krystoforski is a 2024 midfielder/attackman who also had never played the sport until this year. He felt safe trying a new sport because others were also new.

“I thought I would try it out because I wasn’t going to be the only one to be starting out,” he said. “Learning the sport was a little difficult at first, but once I understood the basics it was pretty easy to figure out the rest.

“I wanted to be confident in myself early, so I started practicing by myself before the season started.
After the first two games I became really confident, finally being able to see what it was like with real pressure, too.

“The thing I like most about the sport is the people. Whether they are on my team or another, almost everyone I talked to on the field was great. I made new close friends on my team. Everyone is there to have fun, and that’s what is great about the sport.”

Krystoforski said it’s up to the returning players to help build the program from the foundation built this season.

“I have a couple goals for next year,” he said. “First is getting more people to play for the team because I want them to see how much fun they could have. Second, get our first win as a team. Of course
it would be awesome if we could play varsity next year.”

Jessica Byers wished to thank the team members and the many who helped support the program. The team sent a thank you letter to the PLA for the equipment grant.

“I have so much I’d like to say about this team and how I am beyond proud of them,” she said. “To see how far they have come in such a short time is crazy to me. Like Qadir Hayward, our face off guy – he averaged 93% wins – and he never played before!

“This kid looks at film all the time, studies it and works it out on the field.

“And there was the support we received, not just from our awesome Athletic Department – AD John Seman and Assistant AD JO-Van Rogers – but from teams we played and the refs, was awesome. The head coach of Chosen helped out too to try to get as much as we could until the new equipment came in. To see all these people come together to help all these kids is so great – I wish everyone could have this experience.

“I feel blessed for the experience and proud of this team. They set such an awesome example of how an athlete should be, win or lose and as a coach, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Logan Byers said the Panthers came close to winning several games at the end of the year and have the skills necessary to go varsity next year. For him, personally, it was hard at first to accept not playing at the varsity level after playing club lacrosse with Team Chosen.

But he found more fulfillment from seeing the team’s growth – as well as his own.

“It was definitely a great year for me even though I wasn’t at that varsity level,” he said. “I was teaching other guys to be at that varsity level and at the end of the year I taught the guys what they needed to do: hit the wall, (improve their) footwork, keep their endurance up, and basic concepts of the field.”

Byers said his coach/mother had good ideas about starting a new program: “It took me a bit to realize this, but coach knew from the beginning that when starting a brand new program you make sure people like it. You have to show that the sport is fun.

“With lacrosse, it’s very hard to (learn) very late in your years,” he said. “If you’re starting (to play) in high school, you’ve got to put in a lot of hours. Instead of using your hands, you’re using your stick and that throws a lot of people off.

“Our effort was to make people stay and enjoy it and see the fun side of the sport, not the frustrating part of, ‘OK, I need to get better.’ I believe we did succeed with that and I strongly believe that they are the core foundation of the team.”

What will Byers say when he goes to King’s and others ask how his senior year in lacrosse went?

“It was definitely something no other senior could experience,” he said.

On the topic of diversity in the sport, he was not surprised to see players from diverse backgrounds fall for the sport.

“Every year I’d go to a tournament I would see something new,” he said. “One tourney last year I saw someone playing with one arm; he had to use a prosthetic arm attachment and he was still beating kids twice his size. It was phenomenal.”

Cheltenham’s Thank You letter to the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association for an equipment grant



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