Hit me with your best shot

Phillip Brents

Thu February 6, 2014 1:24pm

Keith Quigley is the founder, executive director and president of PUCKidz Inc., a newly incorporated nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation that impresses on children the importance of staying active through sports, to help fight against childhood obesity and to teach kids tolerance through positive interaction with their peers. PUCKidz stands for Positive Understandable Coaching for Kidz, and Quigley stresses that to a tee.
“Our ultimate goal is to instill in children the necessary skills to realize their full potential in life,” he said.
Many older children (and parents) may know Quigley as the boys lacrosse coach at Olympian High School and the roller hockey coach at Bonita Vista High School. He’s coached both programs since their inception, including the Barons hockey program since its founding as a club team in 1998. The BVHS roller hockey team has won two Kiwanis Cup tournament titles in its 16-year history.
Now an Eastlake resident, Quigley grew up in New York and Massachusetts. He’s brought the two beloved sports of his childhood — hockey and lacrosse — to a new generation of kids on the other side of the country. It’s working.
His grassroots programs and clinics continue to grow, especially the lacrosse programming, he noted.
The PUCKidz program incorporates teamwork and anti-bullying strategies, skill development, tolerance, self-esteem and empowerment, enjoyment and obesity prevention.
Quigley said PUCKidz got its start from his own love for sports and coaching, and giving children an opportunity to participate in sports in a fun, safe, uplifting environment. In effect, he is training the next generation of high school roller hockey and lacrosse players for Chula Vista area schools. That’s important for a region that lags behind the rest of San Diego County in the development of those two sports.
Sneak peak
Children can enjoy hockey without the need of skates through Quigley’s Sunday sneaker hockey program at Sunset View Park in Eastlake. Quigley started the sneaker hockey program for elementary-age children more than five years ago and it remains popular.
“Sneaker hockey is a great way to introduce children to the sport of hockey,” Quigley. “They can get comfortable and confident with their stick handling, passing and shooting before they lace up roller or ice hockey skates. This way they learn the basics of hockey and, then if they like the game, they can move on to roller and ice hockey.  A couple of my sneaker hockey kids also play ice hockey. 
“One parent mentioned to me how her child has really improved on the ice because of the time he spends at sneaker hockey doing stick handling and shooting.  As a kid I always played sneaker hockey.  We used to call it ball hockey or street hockey.  It was a great way to learn the fundamentals of the game and it’s a lot of fun.” 
Sneaker hockey programming usually takes place Sundays at 10 to 11 a.m. at Sunset View Park. Kids can borrow equipment if they don’t have their own.  We do drills for about a half hour and then we split up into teams and scrimmage,” Quigley said. “The kids love the scrimmage. What I really try to stress to the kids is the importance of passing in hockey. My sneaker hockey kids do an amazing job demonstrating passing, teamwork, hustle and fair play. Some of my hockey kids have been attending my Sunday program for a few years now.” 
If kids want to try it out, the first lesson is always free. 
“I think it’s most important that I make sure the children have fun,” Quigley explained.  “They have to enjoy it in order to like it, so I try to set a tone for a very safe and fun environment, keeping things really positive with the kids and really try to lift them up with plenty of positive validations which, of course, helps with their confidence and self esteem. 
“I think the kids really enjoy the program because it has a fun vibe. They enjoy being out there with me. Many of the parents also like to hang out and watch. A couple of the parents at times will even join me in instructing the kids.” 
Prior to the holiday break, Quigley’s sneaker hockey group put on an exhibition at Castle Park High School following three regularly scheduled high school roller hockey games. The youth scrimmage was the highlight of the wintery evening for all those in attendance.
Spring forward
Lacrosse is a spring sport in high school but it’s year-round for Quigley’s newly formed LAX619 division, which falls under the PUCKidz Inc. umbrella.
“I’m extremely excited with what is happening since the development of the LAX619 division,” Quigley said. “Since my lacrosse programming has really taken off, this past year I decided to start a specific division of lacrosse programming which is LAX619. I’m really trying to grow the game of lacrosse in the South Bay from first grade to 12th grade. The only way our local high schools will eventually compete and be highly competitive with the teams in the North County is if we start these kids playing lacrosse in elementary school age.” 
In the past year, Quigley has run after-school lacrosse programs at Sunnyside, Marshall, Hedenkamp, Palomar and Eastlake elementary schools and Arroyo Vista Charter School.  Quigley said the LAX619 high school program seems to have “grown overnight.”
“This past summer for the first time ever we had an LAX619 high school summer club team with students from Olympian High, Bonita High, Eastlake High, Southwest, Hilltop and Otay. We lost in the championship game. Not bad for a first-time team.” 
Quigley said that since the summer program went so well, he decided to put together a LAX619 winter club team that is participating in the Pacific Lacrosse League out of Rancho Bernardo High. There are 44 players — 24 on a varsity team and 20 on a JV team. Once again, these teams are made up of players from South County schools.
“With my LAX619 high school teams, I push the players to hustle, work hard, improve their game and to get ready for their school’s spring season,” Quigley said. “But once again I also want to set a fun environment with a good tone. It’s not always just about winning. I want these kids to demonstrate good sportsmanship, discipline, pride and positive attitudes which they will use throughout their lives.” 
A first-ever Chumash lacrosse tournament (a three-on-three version of lacrosse played on a smaller field with a smaller net and no goaltender) attracted 13 teams, including seven high school teams, and more than 50 participants to Eastlake’s Montevalle Recreation Center field in late December. It was such a success that Quigley said another Chumash tournament is planned Feb. 16-17 at the same site.
“The Chumash was a blast,” Quigley noted. “The kids really liked it, and it was nice to see the parent participation too.”
Quigley’s work with youth has not gone unnoticed. He said one of the most exciting things to happen this year to the PUCKidz/LAX619 organization was being awarded a First Stick Program grant from US Lacrosse.  US Lacrosse received hundreds of applications and PUCKidz, Inc. was one of about 100 that were awarded the grant, Quigley noted. 
The grant is a two-year relationship with US Lacrosse. Through this grant, PUCKidz will receive more than 24 sets of brand new lacrosse equipment that includes helmet, gloves, elbow pads and sticks.
“I am thrilled about the grant and the relationship that I’ll have with US Lacrosse,” Quigley explained. “This will enable my lacrosse programming to reach out to so many more kids who don’t have the means to buy lacrosse equipment.
“There was lots of hard work put in by my board of directors as we all worked on this grant for months before we submitted it.”
Quigley said he is very excited about what 2014 holds for PUCKidz, Inc./LAX619. “I really feel the program is going to continue to grow, especially all of the lacrosse programming,” he said. “I’m also working on growing my hockey programs and have recently started to get more participants as part of my youth tennis program.
“I think tennis is a great sport for kids to participate in. I’m excited to start off 2014 with a trip to Philadelphia to attend the US Lacrosse convention as part of the grant program. I’m always looking to learn more about coaching, philosophies, drills and leadership development.”
Quigley has certainly had a good start.
As will all grassroots-based youth development programs, fund-raising is continuously ongoing. Quigley said donations and corporate gifts are appreciated in order to continue offering partial or full scholarships to those youths who could not otherwise afford to participate.