When Thomas DeSimone co-founded Challenger Lacrosse, he never imagined that it would transform him into an inventor. Now that’s precisely what’s happened, with DeSimone tapping into youthful resourcefulness and modern technology to develop the world’s first oversized lacrosse head.
DeSimone is a high school senior at Chaminade High School, an elite Catholic school in Mineola, New York. The school sits smack dab in the middle of Long Island lacrosse country, with some of the nation’s best players and teams hailing from the area. The long track record of lacrosse stars and teams to come from Long Island has led to the sport’s pervasive spread across socioecomic and geographic divides, making it the true sport of record for the New York suburbs. Because of lacrosse’s position on the island it was a natural choice when DeSimone and Raymond Samson researched possible sports to bring to children with Down Syndrome and other disabilities.
And so Challenger Lacrosse was born. Named in part homage to the Challenger baseball and softball programs popularized by Little League, the Challenger Lacrosse program was founded in the summer of 2013. It immediately offered lacrosse clinics and practices for 50 Long Island children with the help of at least 75 “buddies” to teach the sport and ensure that the entire experience focused squarely on fun. The program held additional practices across five more weeks that summer, and expanded those effort in 2014 and 2015 to 8-10 weeks across the spring. They eventually helped launch sister programs in nearby towns Garden City and Syosset as well.
Yet while Challenger Lacrosse has grown in scope and influence since its founding, it continued to run into one major issue: the ability to teach a sport that requires intricate hand-eye coordination and a relatively small stick with which to catch a small, hard rubber ball.
Cue DeSimone’s idea: A bigger head for a lacrosse stick. Now, thanks to emerging technology, he could do it all himself, too.
“I took a regular lacrosse head, expanded the dimensions by three and then printed it with a 3D printer,” DeSimone told USA TODAY High School Sports. “We wanted to bend the learning curve to help the kids with special needs learn to play.
“I found a place with a 3D scanner in Brooklyn. I took the plans and had it scanned in Brooklyn, then I found a printer in Long Island I could use and 65 hours later we had it in hand. We now have a second prototype which is about 50 percent lighter, the shaft fits correctly and it’s easier to string like a goalie head.”
Once the new head design is in full manufacturing, DeSimone is confident that his program will be able to more effectively teach the core skills of the game and perhaps even begin a bona fide league with games against the new Challenger programs in Garden City and Syosset.
“We want to get (the new head) in the hands of our athletes this spring.” DeSimone said. “Long term we’d like to expand across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania so we can have a real league. I think in the next year or two we can do more of that. Right now there are very small leagues in Syosset and Garden City.
“The biggest challenge was getting off the ground. It’s easy to have an idea, but getting started and moving is harder. Getting people to trust you with their money is hard to convince them to do. We’ve raised that money and now we’re moving. … We’re completely non-profit and all about the kids. They’re number 1. It’s all about being selfless and giving back and providing a space for these kids where they can thrive. We want to grow that mission and help more children.”