A love of lacrosse: East Lyme's Reagan Pierce is breaking barriers
When the New England Black Wolves were competing with the Colorado Mammoth at the Mohegan Sun last month, it was a high-energy, back-and-forth game. The players were fiercely focused, sprinting up the field and looking for an opening, a way to score against the opposing team. Music pumped over the speakers, and the Black Wolves fans hooted and cheered.
When halftime hit, the Black Wolves’ ball boys sprang into action — including Reagan Pierce, a 12-year-old from East Lyme. Reagan and another ball boy ran across the field and got water bottles out of a penalty box to refill them. That’s just one of their jobs, which range from tracking the balls during the teams’ warm-up to making sure the towels are in the right spot.
As the two teams battled it out in the game, it was obvious that Reagan also is a big Black Wolves fan. When the Black Wolves scored, he banged his palms appreciatively on the plexiglass separating spectators from the field of play. He occasionally was inspired to grab a lacrosse stick himself, handling it with the nonchalant ease that only a true lacrosse player would.
Pierce is a little person — he's 4 feet 1 inch tall — and he’s not just a Black Wolves ball boy. He’s also a heck of a lacrosse player in his own right.
When asked what he likes about lacrosse, as opposed to other sports he has played (he plays soccer, too, and has tried everything from basketball to wrestling), Reagan answers at first like any 12-year-old would: brief and to the point.
“It’s the most fun,” he says.
He later elaborates: “I love lacrosse because it doesn’t matter how big or fast you are. It’s about having skill and good stick skills. (Skill) is the great equalizer when it comes to speed and size.”
Adam Rand, a former professional lacrosse player who is Reagan’s coach with Shoreline Lacrosse, says he is a joy to work with. He gets no special treatment, Rand points out, and has absolutely earned his spot on the field. He works very hard at becoming a strong and smart lacrosse player, Rand says.
“He takes what some would call a weakness — being smaller — and he uses that to his advantage,” Rand says. “He’s not the fastest player on the team, but in lacrosse, one of the most important statistics is ground balls, where you pick the ball up off the ground. His actually being smaller, he’s lower to the ground, so he’s able to get nice and low and scoop the ground balls up.”
Rand adds that Reagan is practicing another position, face-off, where being closer to the ball also works to a player’s advantage.
“He’s big into proving people wrong. Reagan is the type of kid that, whatever he does, he’s going to be successful,” Rand says.
Pierce is a seventh-grader at East Lyme Middle School, and he has loved lacrosse since he started watching it when older sister Kaci took up the sport and their father helped coach. (Kaci’s twin sister, Shannon, also played lacrosse later; they are two years older than Reagan.)
In addition to playing for Shoreline Lacrosse, Reagan has been playing for East Lyme Lacrosse for the past two years.
The joy he takes in the sport certainly reveals itself when he’s talking about some good plays he has made (his eyes shine as he recalls being behind the goal and getting a pass, running around the net, diving and shooting the ball, scoring a goal) and when he’s actually playing the game. During a recent practice with his East Lyme Lacrosse team at Wide World of Indoor Sports in Montville, Reagan energetically was running and catching the ball, then tossing it back with velocity during drills.
Rand says that Reagan is a natural leader who has his teammates' backs, and they have his. He’s also a great inspiration.
Being a little person, Reagan’s size is very different from other kids his age, of course. Consequently, running and tussling with the other players is a little harder for him.
Reagan’s father, Shawn Pierce, says, “I think that’s made him a better player because he’s smarter on spatial awareness of where he needs to be ... He’s driven. He feels he has to prove himself more to everybody so he works harder than everybody else.”
Indeed, his mother, Julie Pierce, notes that he consistently is one of the players with the most assists for his teams.
A die-hard Black Wolves fan
The Pierces were Black Wolves season ticket holders long before Reagan became a ball boy. In fact, during a Black Wolves game two years ago, Reagan was the only kid who made a shot into the goal from half field.
A friend, Anthony Ballestrini, started serving as a ball boy for the Black Wolves, and Reagan became interested in doing the same. The team took him on as one of about 20 ball boys total; each is recommended by a local coach, and between six and eight are at each game.
“It’s fun ... It gets you more interactive with the players,” Reagan says.
Indeed, Reagan has become friendly with some of the Black Wolves athletes. Reagan had met player Brett Manney back at a youth lacrosse informational day a couple of years ago.
“I kind of built a connection with him,” Manney says. “He just loves the game of lacrosse and obviously we connect on that level, but also he’s a good kid. He loves the Black Wolves. His parents are good people — they’re very supportive.”
And he mentions Reagan’s personality.
“For a kid that’s as young as he is, he’s not afraid to go up to these professional athletes to say, ‘Hey, good luck,’ or give us a fist bump or talk crap about one of the guys that we might be playing,” Manney says with a laugh. “Not every ball boy is going to do that or has the guts to do it about an opposing 6-2 player on the other team.”
In addition, Manney says, “What’s truly special about him — everyone kind of knows what he’s gone through off the field, obviously being a little person but having so much confidence in that. But then (with) the surgeries that he’s gone through” — more on his bilateral tibia osteotomy surgery later — “and the tough times, I’m sure it’s not easy being him. I’m happy our team and our players can be like a sanctuary for him and accept him and value the work that he does for us. (That) is pretty cool.”
He notes, too, that Reagan is informed and a student of the game. Indeed, Reagan is interested in sports in general and, his mother notes, seems to have a wonderful IQ for sports. It probably comes as little surprise, then, that he says he’d like to become a sportscaster one day.
No special treatment
The Pierces have made a conscious choice not to treat Reagan differently from other kids. At their home, they only made two modifications to accommodate his height: creating a railing below the existing railing on the stairs for when he was learning to climb them, and a separate, lower set of light switches in his bedroom so he could control his own lights.
Julie Pierce says that decision came out of recommendations from another family whose child was a little person and from a family with a special-needs son. Their advice was: just treat him like anybody else.
The Pierces have done that, and they have asked Reagan’s coaches to do the same.
Julie Pierce says that Reagan is very independent, which has served him well.
“Being a little person, it is a little more difficult (when playing lacrosse) to keep up, so that’s where you have to adapt and figure out how to make yourself valuable out there on the field,” she says. “Just like in the house or in school, you have to adapt to your surroundings, being a little person — anybody does, but it’s just a different challenge.”
This upcoming lacrosse season will be a new experience for Reagan: last August, he had his legs straightened. He had bilateral tibia osteotomy surgery on both legs; it corrects the bowing of the legs and is a common procedure for little people. When his parents were bringing him down to the duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., for the operation, they surprised him by stopping in Philadelphia to see Manney at his office, NXT Lacrosse.
Ever the lacrosse enthusiast, Reagan, post-operation, was at home and went out in his wheelchair into the snow to toss the lacrosse ball around.
Now, he’s back in the game — literally.
“Reagan is a special, special kid. He’s a lot of fun. He’s just a really good person ...” Rand says.
“His future is going to be up to him. He’s not going to let anything restrict him on it.”
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