Jack Kelly grew up watching the Toronto Beaches.
Today, he’s scoring for them.
At 17, Kelly is among the youngest rookies to join the local Junior A box lacrosse team, which has players up to 21.
“It’s so much faster,” says Kelly, a Grade 11 student in the athletics program at Birchmount Collegiate.
“Everyone’s bigger, better, smarter.”
But when Kelly scored during the Beaches’ 13-6 season opener against the Mimico Mountaineers on May 9, he wasn’t the only rookie on the board.
Draft picks Bryce Keats and Tristan Hanna also scored two and three goals each.
Speaking at a practice before the win over Mimico, head coach Glenn Clark said young players can have a tough time stepping into the five-year league, but all the Beaches’ draft picks are off to a strong start.
“It bodes well for the future,” he said.
Along with first-year forwards Kelly, Keats and Hanna, the team picked up defenders Brodie McLean, Michael Harris and goaltender Brayden Bell.
Coach Clark is another new addition to the team, though he brings a lot of experience on and off the floor.
A former Junior A all-star who went on to win three Mann Cups, Clark is best known for winning five championships with the Toronto Rock as a defender before becoming coach of the NLL team.
Less well known are Clark’s ties to Beaches lacrosse.
He coached a minor-league team here at the beginning of his pro career in the 1990s, even played the odd outdoor game as a Junior A in the box at Kew Gardens.
One of his assistant coaches, Carter Livingstone, learned lacrosse in the Beaches minor league from age four, and played for the Junior As before going onto the Toronto Rock for four years and two championship victories.
As coaches, Clark said the big task now is to see the Beaches climb up the standings in the 11-team league – no easy feat with such strong contenders in Six Nations, Whitby, Brampton, Orangeville, and Peterborough.
“It’s not a one-off,” said Clark. “It’s not a light switch you turn on, and we’re winning the Minto Cup.”
“You want to win right away, but you also want to develop a foundation that’s going to have some legs to it.”
Clem D’Orazio, the Beaches’ new general manager, is also looking to build team momentum, and not only by acquiring seasoned players such as Joel Tinney and Zach McCulligh, who both came to the Beaches this summer after years with the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves.
D’Orazio is also spearheading a new billeting program, so more out-of-town players have a place to stay for the three- to four-month season.
Alongside Beach players like Jack Kelly, the team has up-and-comers from as far away as Ottawa, Sarnia, and Owen Sound.
“We go 401 to 401,” said D’Orazio, so having Beach families offer to billet players can make a big difference.
“We’ve had people from the community reach out already and say, ‘I got to do this when I was playing in Junior,’” he said. “It helps create a hometown environment.”
When he’s not on the floor playing, Jack Kelly aims to do the same thing. For years, Kelly has joined his dad in welcoming new players to the Beaches minor league, and recruiting friends to the team at Birchmount Collegiate.
“His heart’s in the right place,” said Clark. “He wants this to do well for the community.”
The Toronto Beaches play their first home game at 8 p.m. this Friday, May 22 at Ted Reeve Arena. For more game times and team news, visit torontobeachesjrlacrosse.com.