Mojo with Mad Cats

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Local lacrosse team emphasizes service to community

By Nancy Edwards

For a local lacrosse team soon to be competing at the national level, the purpose is not about the win. It’s not about the number of goals. It’s not even about who the “star” is. It is, however, about friendship, having fun and serving in the community.

The Mad Cats, a group of 22 players attending Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers elementary schools, have a “chemistry between us that’s really unusual,” said Markus Saba, head coach of the team.

Members of the Mad Cats, a nonprofit team consisting of 10- to 12-year-olds, were recruited two years ago. The team, many of whom had never played lacrosse before, spent the first year working hard with the encouragement of coaches. This past year everything started to click.

“We started winning and confidence grew in the kids,” he added.

This summer the team, their parents, Saba, and Assistant Coach Mark Berutich traveled to tournaments across the country and defeated teams they didn’t think they could beat. At the end of the season, the Mad Cats discovered they were going to compete nationally at the end of the year in Florida.

According to Saba, a genuine team effort is what propelled the team to their success. For example, players are encouraged to pass the ball to one another, as opposed to the same person. This method is referred to as “tic-tac-toe” and fosters a stronger bond with members of the team.

In addition, he noted, there is no quarterback, no point guard or pitcher, so members see one another as equals.

“There’s no real superstar; this is truly a team sport,” Saba said. “You don’t get jealous parents. Kids play for one reason – because they love the sport.”

As a result, the boys are more likely to talk about how they spent their weekend hanging out with their best friends on the team than the Mad Cats’ 18:1 record.

“It’s really cool to play with them all at the same time,” said Liam McClure, 12, of his teammates. “Hanging out is the best. We usually just have people over at the houses and have parties on Halloween, go to haunted houses and stuff like that.”

“There’s no fighting, no bickering; not once have I heard about the kids not getting along or the parents not getting along with each other. That’s unusual with (a team of) 22 kids,” said Saba.

“They have mojo together,” added Julie Elsbury, mother to Cannon, 11, who plays defense on the team. She said the team’s camaraderie makes her happy. Elsbury shared an instance when one of the team dads said his son told him, “Cannon’s always got my back.

“That’s awesome that they have that security with one another. The offense (members) will give defense fist pumps and say ‘nice play,’” she said.

These sort of “warm fuzzies” between team players may get noticed, but opposing teams don’t mistake the Mad Cats as a sure bet to beat. Before each game, members of the Mad Cats get together for exercise and drills and yell “Mad Cats!” so fiercely that “other teams look at us and say ‘oh my gosh, what can we expect?’” Saba said.

The warrior attitudes quickly melt when the team does their monthly service project together. Volunteering projects have included giving back at Wheeler Mission, sponsoring a needy family for Christmas, Peyton Manning’s Hero Project, Food for Soul, and Fall Creek Township Food Bank.

Their last project, one of the team’s favorites, was serving meals for low-income residents at The Lord’s Pantry at Anna’s House.

“I liked that we got to help people,” said Cannon Elsbury. The (people we helped) seemed happy when they got their food and the little kids got their food.”

Members of the team also learned to appreciate what they have.

“They learned how to care for each other and others. From a coach’s perspective, they learned teamwork skills and that we’re all equal.”

Those skills do not go unnoticed by coaches of other lacrosse teams formed from older students in high school.

“At end of game,” Saba said, “parents tell me that they’ll notice teams, even older teams, at the sideline watching our game, and their coach tells them, “Gentlemen, that’s how you play lacrosse.”

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