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Paul Kosubinsky has experience getting things off the ground. A pilot for more than three decades, Kosubinsky has spent the last 24 years with United Airlines based out of Dulles International Airport. 

Kosubinsky, a Long Island transplant, gained a similar satisfaction helping lacrosse take flight in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Four years ago, he got a bird’s-eye view of the progress when a parent filmed a Strasburg High School club game.

“Holy cow,” Kosubinsky thought while watching the footage. “That is what lacrosse is supposed to look like, and our kids are doing it.”

That was not the case a little more than a decade ago. Back in 2009, Kosubinsky had lost touch with the sport he last played his freshman year in 1986 on the club team at Kent State. He reconnected shortly after his sons, Colin and Jacob, 6 and 5 years old at the time, brought home a flyer they picked up at school. It was for a “Lacrosse Day” organized by Joe Pfisterer at the Sportsplex in Winchester, Va.

“If anyone has any lacrosse experience or interest in coaching,” he asked, “please let us know.” 

Kosubinsky and Frank Haun were the only two dads who raised their hands.

“No one out here had any idea what lacrosse was,” Kosubinsky said.

That first season, Shenandoah Valley Youth Lacrosse had just 40 kids ranging in age from 5 to 15 and spread out between Woodstock and Winchester. Don Loomis coached the Northern Division Vipers while Kosubinksy and Haun headed up the Southern Division Sabers, which drew from Shenandoah and Warren counties.

The early times were tough. Kosubinsky could not hold back a chuckle when he remembered the extent of the equipment at his disposal the first year: nine lacrosse balls. To get to games they drove, often by carpool, to towns like Culpeper, Warrenton and Martinsburg up to an hour away. When they showed up to tournaments around Charlottesville, they’d get “eaten alive” by the more experienced competition.

During the Sabers’ first game, each player’s helmet was practically a different color. They did not have jerseys, so the coaches taped flat cones onto one of the teams’ helmets. They called it the Conehead Tournament.

Kosubinsky also made regular trips back to Long Island to retrieve donated pads, sticks and helmets, which were the hardest to come by. “We did the best we could and the kids loved it,” he said.

They got pinnies and more balls the next year, but still struggled to recruit new players given the inherent equipment expenses. Things started to shift in 2011 after Kosubinsky received a US Lacrosse First Stick Program grant. He learned about the program when he attended the US Lacrosse Convention with Haun and Loomis in Baltimore. The grant included 25 complete sets of gear.

“From then on it literally exploded,” Kosubinsky said.

The nearby Front Royal Rippers experienced a similar trajectory after Devon Harper — one of the founding fathers of Shenandoah Valley Youth Lacrosse along with Kosubinsky, Haun and Loomis — applied for a US Lacrosse First Stick Program grant in 2014. “Without the First Stick grant, we wouldn’t have been able to field one team,” Harper said.

Last year, SVYL boasted more than 400 players and ranged from boys’ and girls’ U9 teams all the way up to the high school level. Strasburg and Front Royal both field elementary, middle school and high school club teams.

Kosubinsky coaches the Strasburg middle school team and is an assistant for the high school team, where his sons are junior and senior attackmen. It’s not your typical lacrosse demographic. The high school team, he said, had several players who came from difficult backgrounds and lacked family support.

The Hawks played three games before the coronavirus pandemic halted their season. Before their final game against Musselman, Kosubinksy posted on the town’s Facebook page a message to come and cheer on the Rams. He was encouraged to see fans at Strasburg Town Park who did not have kids playing in the game.

Equally uplifting was when several residents told him after the 12-4 win and before he had to catch a flight to Denver for a United training event how exciting they found the game and the sport in general.

“We have a lot of support in our little, little town out here,” Kosubinksy said of the rural community with a population around 6,500.

Even during quarantine, lacrosse has proved a valuable outlet for Tyler Dubose, a 2019 Strasburg High School graduate. He and his friends, who were part of that first SVYL group, still spend some of their free time playing catch at Town Park. These days, they get fewer questions about the contraptions they’re holding than they used to.

“It just helps us escape,” Dubose said.

Lacrosse has always been there. Dubose fell in love with the sport at age 8 at one of Kosubinsky’s clinics. He got his first stick through the US Lacrosse grant. Whenever he got mad or frustrated, he’d play wall ball for hours. When he stepped on the field, everything he worried about faded away.

A midfielder with natural speed, Dubose once squared off against Isaiah Davis-Allen, the Chesapeake Bayhawks midfielder and former Maryland star, in an impromptu 50-yard sprint at a Strasburg practice.

“Why don’t you hustle?” Davis-Allen asked after watching Dubose drag his heels through drills. 

“If I hustle, no one else will keep up,” Dubose shot back.

“You want to race?” Davis-Allen suggested.

Dubose won, but he almost let lacrosse slip away. He had a penchant for mouthing at opposing coaches and getting in altercations with players. Off the field, he was once caught egging a house.

But when Dubose learned that Kosubinsky had to vouch for him to the school administration, his behavior changed. He knew he couldn’t act out anymore if it meant losing the game he loved. “I didn’t have a single problem with him his senior year,” Kosubinsky said. “He was awesome.” 

In his final game, Dubose felt like he couldn’t miss. He traded goals with his best friend and neighbor Cameron Colt during a 6-3 win over Massanutten Military Academy at James Madison. Walking off the field, Dubose saw Kosubinsky crying. While Dubose knew how much Kosubinsky cared, that moment crystallized it for him. Dubose realized he wanted to offer kids the same experience and opportunity that Kosubinsky gave him.

“Coach Paul gave me so much,” Dubose said. “I felt like I should give back too.”

Dubose was an assistant coach for SVYL’s U11 team this spring. He didn’t miss a practice.

“A lot of times when you have a volunteer that’s helping out with little guys coaching, they’re busy talking about this, that and the other thing and not really too interested in coaching,” Kosubinsky said. “Here was this kid at 17 years old who was better than most adult coaches that had helped me out.”

Kosubinsky knows the lessons he has learned and then tried to impart over the past decade extend beyond the scoreboard. He scrawled the most important one on his son Colin’s graduation card back in May.

“Our richest rewards in life are through service,” he wrote. “Whether you are serving your team or the youth in your community, find out what you can serve others with and do it.”