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Lawyers pitching in to help Baltimore youth lacrosse league

The next season for the Charm City Youth Lacrosse League is still six months away, but already Peter Killough and other volunteers are busy raising money, rounding up equipment, reserving fields, promoting the sport at local recreation centers and searching for a new executive director.

“It seems to run pretty seamlessly in April, May and June, but that doesn’t happen just by showing up in March,” Killough said. “It takes a certain amount of advance planning.”

Killough, the People’s Insurance Counsel in the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, is just one of many members of the local legal community ready to pitch in and help with that planning.

The lacrosse league for inner-city youth started in 2009 as the brainchild of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, but has since been embraced as a cause célèbre by Baltimore lawyers both inside Gansler’s office and in private practice.

Nearly half of the 23 people listed on the organization’s board of directors are lawyers, including Kendra Y. Ausby, who has become a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge, and Kurt L. Schmoke, the dean of the Howard University School of Law. Two of the league’s 10 teams are sponsored by law firms: DLA Piper LLP US and solo practitioner Warren A. Brown.

“It’s been wonderful on two levels,” Gansler said. “One is the support we’ve gotten from within our office … and in terms of outside of the office, the impact has been even greater in the legal community.”

The league transcends political differences. One of the directors is Stuart O. Simms of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, who ran against Gansler in the Democratic primary for the Attorney General position in 2006.

Simms said he thought it was important to support Gansler’s effort to connect with the community, and as a Baltimore native, he knew the importance of getting grade school kids into lacrosse early so they could seize opportunities later at the high school and college levels.

“One of the strongest things we had in common was, I think, the desire to see the development and success of youngsters in the community,” Simms said.

Gansler was an All-Ivy League midfielder at Yale University. Other lawyers who moonlight as Charm City Lacrosse board members are Peter M. Rubin, who starred at Duke University, and Lawrence J. Quinn, who was “one of the greatest goalies ever to play the game,” according to Gansler, while at Johns Hopkins University in the 1980s. Like Quinn, Stanley S. Fine of Rosenberg|Martin|Greenberg LLP is also a board member and former Blue Jay. His firm did the paperwork for the Charm City league to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization at no cost.

But others who have taken up the mantle have little to no background in the sport.

“I failed my lacrosse test in high school,” joked Simms, who attended Roland Park’s lacrosse powerhouse Gilman School.

Tony DeFranco, a staff attorney with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said he was similarly unqualified to make the varsity team at Boys Latin School of Maryland, where he played baseball instead. But he jumped at the opportunity to help with the Charm City league and do “pretty much whatever they need me to do.”

DeFranco, who has volunteered since the league began, said he’s seen it change immensely. During the first year there was no competition, just training in the fundamentals. Now the league has more than 200 participants ages 5 to 13 competing against each other on 10 teams.

Killough has been one of the volunteers to help the league grow by visiting local rec centers to get kids interested in lacrosse and the league. He said it’s sometimes a hard sell in neighborhoods where football and basketball reign supreme, but he’s occasionally surprised at how receptive the kids are.

“I’m African-American myself, so I think that helped,” he said.

Killough added that he’s also able to connect with the kids because growing up in Michigan he played football and baseball, but he’s grown to love lacrosse since he moved to the East Coast. So, he can sell the Charm City league to them as an opportunity he never had.

Gansler and his Charm City partners are looking for the league to grow further and become a true feeder program for lacrosse teams in Baltimore City public schools. They hope it even helps to place players on local private school teams that are some of the best in the country.

This year Charm City coaches plucked the top players from their teams and entered them in local tournaments. The other teams were more established and had played together much longer, but DeFranco said the Charm City all-stars held their own.

“In terms of heart, I don’t think you’re going to find many teams in the area with as much heart as our kids,” he said.