After establishing a lacrosse program at Carlsbad High, which he coached for a short time, Nichols moved to Oceanside to teach special education at Libby Elementary and continue his work of spreading the game of lacrosse.
“Aside from developing their skills early, there needs to be an interest at the high school level in order to create a varsity team,” he said. “Without a club in the area, most kids would never even know about lacrosse.”
Fran DeLeonardis and Frank Nichols are two men on a mission. In a town where the sport of lacrosse has a noticeably low profile, DeLeonardis and Nichols established the El Camino High Club Wildcats with the intention of spreading the game to an Oceanside community that knows little about it. The two met in 2005 when DeLeonardis’ son, Steven, enrolled in a lacrosse camp run by Nichols in Carlsbad.
“My son was getting ready to enter high school where he had the intentions of playing football,” DeLeonardis said. “We wanted to find a spring sport for him that would really prepare him as an athlete, and lacrosse seemed to be something that could do that.”
However, DeLeonardis and his son discovered that the city of Oceanside offered no such programs that supported lacrosse, including El Camino High, which Steven attends. The closest program they could find was Nichols’ camp. After seeing the impact that the sport had on his son, DeLeonardis approached Nichols about starting a club in Oceanside. “I indicated to Fran that that was something I had been trying to do for a really long time,” Nichols said.
“He said to me that we should both work at it, and after working for a while we got started in 2006.” The Wildcats, along with the Oceanside Lions at the middle school level, were established with the goal of gaining support for lacrosse among young athletes in the community and, eventually, integration at the varsity level at El Camino.
Nichols, a New York native, moved west after graduating from college in 1977 and started the lacrosse program at Point Loma High, which was one of only six lacrosse teams in the county at the time. During his 11 seasons at Point Loma, he helped the program become part of the San Diego County Lacrosse Association and, later, as it integrated into the CIF. “When I was out of college my buddies asked me, ‘Why is a guy with your ability going west when lacrosse is in the east?’ ” Nichols said.
“I told them that I wanted to go where it was wild, wooly and free.” That desire brought Nichols to San Diego. “It was wide open when I got here,” he said.
“There were no rules, no structure and we had to build it all over the decade.” After establishing a lacrosse program at Carlsbad High, which he coached for a short time, Nichols moved to Oceanside to teach special education at Libby Elementary and continue his work of spreading the game of lacrosse.
The Wildcats are holding spring registration for boys and girls grades 5-8. According to DeLeonardis, the goal is to get children involved in the sport at a young age to help create a demand for lacrosse at the high school level. “Aside from developing their skills early, there needs to be an interest at the high school level in order to create a varsity team,” he said. “Without a club in the area, most kids would never even know about lacrosse.”
This spring, the Wildcats are scheduled to play about 13 games on Saturdays at Del Rio West Elementary against other local clubs and upstart high school programs, such as San Marcos, Mt. Carmel and Valhalla. For Wildcats players such as Bryce Calvo, lacrosse is an exciting and physical game that, he said, cannot be matched by other more prominent spring sports.
“Lacrosse is a game that requires a lot of heart,” said Calvo, a freshman at El Camino. “It’s a tough sport, but it’s also a finesse sport. Lacrosse means everything to me.” Calvo said the relationship between the players and Nichols is the most rewarding aspect of the game.
“He’s definitely a tough coach,” Calvo said. “But if you’re on his team, he really respects you as a player and he demands the best out of you.” Nichols said he hopes to make this team the latest in his long list of success stories in San Diego County lacrosse.
“It’s a wonderful sport with lots of history and the kids love it,” he said. “We’re coming to Vista next, so look out.”