Lacrosse enthusiasm reaches Western Kenosha County
Kenosha Raptors delivering sport to area youth
By Jason Arndt
When the Kenosha Raptors Lacrosse Club formed in 2011, the organization was on a mission to teach and grow the game of lacrosse in the Kenosha community, Club President Rob Wikstrom reports.
Five years later, the growth has spread into Western Kenosha County communities, including the villages of Bristol, Salem Lakes and Paddock Lake.
According to officials at the Kenosha Raptors Lacrosse Club, six Westosha Central High School students have taken up the sport, which recently started playing some home games on the Falcons’ football field.
Rilye Kaebisch, a senior at Westosha Central, is one of the six participants playing at either the junior varsity or varsity level.
Boys Program Director Ricky Kaebisch, Rilye’s father, remembered when his son expressed an interest in lacrosse while his family was stationed in North Carolina about seven years ago.
“My son Rilye came home from school one day with a flyer on lacrosse and said he wanted to play,” said Ricky, then a Navy Corpsman. “Not knowing anything about the sport I tried to talk him into continuing the baseball route.”
Instead, Ricky opted to support and encourage Rilye, then 11 years old, to follow his heart. Rilye’s enthusiasm for the sport became contagious to the Kaebisch family.
Along with Ricky and Rilye, the Kaebisch family consists of Ricky’s wife, Nicole, son Reid and Ella, who is a sophomore girls volleyball player at Westosha Central.
Reid, a third-grader at Bristol School, participates in the Raptors youth program.
“After the first practice he was hooked and shortly after our entire family became lacrosse fans,” said Ricky. “The action of any sport, passion of the coaches and the enjoyment of the players after practices and games was very contagious.”
When the Kaebischs returned to the Kenosha area after Ricky received a transfer, his wife sought a club for Rilye to continue his passion, which led to the discovery of the Kenosha Raptors Lacrosse Club.
“One phone call led to our son being able to play in the final tournament of the season with the team,” said Ricky, who eventually started coaching, and credited the Raptors for helping his family transition back to Wisconsin.
“The open arms that the club displayed towards us is exactly the thing we were looking for and helped assists in our transition back to Wisconsin and has led to lifelong friends.”
Central bolsters support
Joining Rilye, a team captain and defender, is Westosha Central senior classmate Kyle Kuhfuss. Kuhfuss serves as an attack man on the team.
Westosha Central sophomores Joshua Grimm, a goalie, and defender Nate Zimmerman play on the junior varsity squad.
Previously, the Raptors had recent graduate Tyler Perona on the team. Tyler Perona plays club lacrosse at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Also, current students Matthew Perona and John Dietz played on the team.
Meanwhile, for the girls, the Raptors have Westosha Central senior Tessa Jahneke and junior Elise Wember, according to Girls Program Director Carrie Durkee.
Durkee, of Pleasant Prairie, said participation rates among schools in Western Kenosha County have grown this year.
“I think this year is the most we’ve had at county schools so far,” said Durkee, who credits Ricky Kaebisch for spreading the word. “I believe that was attributed to Ricky distributing information at Central since that’s where his kids attend.”
Before the season started, with Ricky Kaebisch as the driving force, the Raptors formed a partnership with Westosha Central to play some home games and practice on football field.
The partnership, Ricky Kaebisch said, was possible through the help of Westosha Central Athletic Director Jonathan Lindh.
“This past fall, (Lindh) was able to assist the Raptors by sending out messages to the student body regarding free learn to play lacrosse clinics that led to new players,” Ricky Kaebisch said.
“(Lindh) has been extremely helpful in assisting the Kenosha Raptors. Jon went as far as personally painting lacrosse boundary lines on the field for use in our games.”
Additionally, the Raptors have received support from administrators at Bristol School, where the Raptors have used the gym when there is unfavorable weather.
When practices are held at Bristol School, observers have often shown an interest in the sport, Ricky Kaebisch reports.
“People are very interested once they see the sport in person,” he said. “Younger kids gravitate to lacrosse sticks and balls.”
Different playing style
Lacrosse, similar to hockey, features fast-paced play between two teams of 10 on the field, and is not uncommon to see rapid substitutions.
“Lacrosse is similar to hockey in that many players have an opportunity to play due to its fast paced game play,” Ricky Kaebisch said. “The fact that it is fast paced and many get to play is very appealing to student-athletes.”
However, unlike the boys game, lacrosse isn’t considered a contact sport for girls, Durkee said.
“The girls game is much different than the boys game,” she said. “It’s safer since there is no contact and girls don’t wear any protective gear except for the goalie.”
Durkee, however, said the girls see the same social benefits as boys, including developing friendships and giving back to the community.
“Our girls love playing lacrosse and get their friends to give it a try,” she said. “As you would with all team sports, the girls get very close and since we start preparing for the season in the winter, the girls become great friends.”
An appeal to KUSD
While not recognized as a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association sport, Wikstrom reports the Raptors have filed a proposal with the Kenosha Unified School District, requesting the girls and boys program get added to the list of sponsored spring sports.
If passed by the KUSD School Board next month, the benefits could spread to Western Kenosha County schools, according to Durkee.
“We have a very good chance of playing as a KUSD sport next year,” said Durkee. “Another thing to note is the players can still gain a varsity letter at their own school when they play with the Raptors.”
With potential passage, Durkee believes the measure could lead to a co-op partnership with western Kenosha county schools.
“We’d love to have kids join from Western Kenosha,” she said. “When KUSD includes lacrosse, a co-op can be formed so county students can still play on the KUSD team.”
The girls and boys junior varsity and varsity programs compete in the Classic 8 Conference, which includes Franklin, Oconomowoc, Arrowhead, Waukesha West, Brookfield, among other schools, she said.
While they wait for the outcome, Ricky Kaebisch can enjoy seeing Rilye play the role lacrosse mentor to younger kids in the community.
“When I look in the backyard and I see Rilye playing catch with Reid and our neighbor kids, it really warms my heart knowing that Rilye chose this path with this sport and is patient with ‘paying it forward’,” he said.
For more information
In 2011, when the Kenosha Raptors Lacrosse Club was formed, the organization had one boys team.
In five years, the program expanded to 10 teams, ranging from third-grade through high school.
Through those five years, the program has developed boys and girls all-conference players.
While participation among boys has remained steady, girls have caught on to the sport, according to the KUSD proposal.
“For the 2017 season, we already have 14 new high school girls that have started coming to our fall/winter practices that never played lacrosse before,” the proposal states.
Additionally, at the youth level, the Raptors report 40 children have picked up the game this season.
While the Raptors charge a $250 fee at the high school level, both Durkee and Ricky Kaebisch state the organization attempts to keep costs low to encourage participation.
“We try to keep the cost down as much as possible,” said Durkee. “For a club team, our season cost is pretty low at $250 for the high school team.”
For youth, however, costs are lower for children to play and sometimes offset through fundraisers.
“One of the goals of the club is to provide an affordable opportunity for all interested student-athletes,” Ricky Kaebisch said. “With that being said, the Raptors are one of the lower cost programs in the area. Youth fees are $175.”
For more information on the Kenosha Raptors Lacrosse program, visit kenosharaptors.com